A family judge has expressed his disapproval at the ‘unwarranted expenditure’ in a case where a local authority breached Article 8 rights under the European Convention on Human Rights by taking an infant into care.
The claimants in AZ (mother), BZ (father), CZ (child by his Children’s Guardian) v Kirklees Council, had sought a declaration that their rights had been breached and an order for damages. An interim care order, removing the child from his parents’ care at the hospital when he was one week old, was made in November 2015 following a hearing where neither parent was present or represented. The child returned to his parents’ care in January 2016.
Proceedings brought by the local authority under the Children Act 1989 were formally dismissed at a hearing in May 2016. A hearing this month before Mr Justice Cobb sitting in the family court at Leeds, concerned costs arising from those proceedings and the claims brought under the Human Rights Act 1998 application.
Cobb, in a widely publicised judgment, published yesterday, states that ‘there is no doubt in my mind, indeed it is admitted, that Kirklees Council breached the ECHR rights of a baby boy and his parents in purported fulfilment of its safeguarding duties’.
The judgment states that ‘it soon emerged that much of the recorded information about the parents’ knowledge of the hearing on [the interim care order] was in fact incorrect. The parents were, as it is now agreed, unaware that the local authority had been in court that afternoon seeking orders in relation to their baby’.
The council was ordered to pay £3,750 in damages to each of the three claimants. The local authority was also ordered to make a contribution to the claimants’ publicly funded costs, limited to two specific periods.
However, Cobb highlighted his disapproval at the costs incurred in the case.
He said: ’Notwithstanding the limited nature of the dispute, the ordinary requirements of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and Civil Procedure Rules 1998, and my specific exhortation to the parties to take a realistic view of the case, bundles for the hearing exceeding in total 2,000 pages were filed…together with an authorities’ bundle containing over 30 authorities (even then omitting some of the key authorities).
’No reading list was provided, and only the sketchiest agreed note of the points of agreement. I was advised at the hearing on 8 February 2017 that the overall cost of the two associated claims was in excess of £120,000, all of which - one way or another - are to be paid from public funds, unless I make an order against the lawyers responsible.’
He added: ’I am dismayed that the preparation of this case has been undertaken in a way which was not only contrary to my formal direction, but was wholly disproportionate to the issues. I deprecate the unwarranted expenditure.’
Cobb's comments are the latest in a series of judicial criticisms of the size of court bundles. Last year the president of the Family Division, James Munby, proposed introducing mandatory restrictions on size, accusing lawyers of ignoring previous calls for restraint.