Alder Hey Children’s Foundation Trust v Evans (2018)

English Family Law

Evans
‘Study of a Hero’s Life’ by Vincent Desiderio

In a heart-rending case concerning the right to life and right to choice of venue with regard to palliative care, the parents of an almost two-year old boy become torn between the stark truth of their son’s condition, and the parental struggle to override the needs of the State, where the only voice missing is that of the child.

Born in spring of 2016, the respondents’ son Alfie James Evans was admitted to the Alder Hey Hospital in December of that year, after their son displayed a number of concerning behaviours that in turn led to various forms of treatment, albeit none of which showed any long-term success, until he was later diagnosed with a mitochondrial disorder, producing a degenerative condition that itself was causing the functional erosion of his brain to the point of almost exhaustion, while also proving elusive as to the exact cause and identifiable epistemology.

As time progressed, their son eventually lapsed into a coma, and thus the decision was broached as to what possible steps were available to both the respondents and the hospital, regards how best to care for their son during the time remaining between the diagnosis, gradual and distressing deterioration, and his eventual passing.

The hospital had initially suggested that a long-term palliative plan might offer a prolonged lifespan, although the ultimate prognosis was that Alfie was now in a semi-vegetative state, and would remain so indefinitely, however the respondents were reluctant to accept the suggested prognosis, and so in December 2017 the applicant NHS Trust sought a judicial declaration in the High Court, to support their conclusion that there was little merit in continuing to keep Alfie under ventilatory support, whereupon the respondents moved to adjourn the hearing.

Having undertaken extensive research around the diagnosis, the respondents argued that previous symptoms were traceable to hydrocephalus, however the brain tissue had continued to degenerate, and whatever now remained was merely water and cerebral spinal fluid, as anticipated by the medical team and relevant expert testimonies. In addition to this, the respondents had advised that Alfie be transferred to the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, Italy, where should no treatment prove conclusive, he would again be admitted to a third hospital in Much, Germany, albeit at significant risk to his already fragile health.

While the court extended tremendous sympathy to the plight faced by the respondents, it relied in this instance upon the expert opinion of a Professor Nikolaus Haas of the University Hospital, Ludwig-Maximilians university, Munich, who had previously remarked that:

“Based on the extensive testing already performed, I do agree with the medical teams involved that there are no useful tests that may be performed to improve Alfie’s condition. The genetic testing (i.e. whole genome sequencing) is performed by blood sampling and without any risks for Alfie. These tests may in certain cases be beneficial to delineate a new rare disease as pointed out by the doctors of the Bambino Gesu Hospital. To the best of my knowledge these tests have, even if a new disease is found, never been able to cure a patient with a similar disease pattern as Alfie shows.”

While in Aintree University Hospital NHS Trust v James, Baroness Hale had explained that:

“[T]he focus is on whether it is in the patient’s best interests to give the treatment rather than whether it is in his best interests to withhold or withdraw it. If the treatment is not in his best interests, the court will not be able to give its consent on his behalf and it will follow that it will be lawful to withhold or withdraw it. Indeed, it will follow that it will not be lawful to give it. It also follows that (provided of course they have acted reasonably and without negligence) the clinical team will not be in breach of any duty toward the patient if they withhold or withdraw it.”

And so with full cognisance that Alfie had now lost all sense of vision, hearing, smell and touch response, the court was appointed the painful task of holding that the continued use of ventilation was now an exercise in futility, and that in the best interests of the child, the applicants were free to determine an end date for the treatment.

Relentlessly pursued in the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights, the previous judgment was consistently upheld, before being heard again in the High Court in order for a decision to be made as to exactly when the palliative care was to cease; however under new representation, the respondents sought a writ of habeas corpus on grounds that Alfie was now being unlawfully detained in Alder Hay hospital against the wishes of the respondents, a contention that was given little credence, and upon which the court relied upon the words of Lady Hale in the Supreme Court hearing, who stressed that:

“A child, unlike most adults, lacks the capacity to make decisions about future arrangements for themselves. Where there is a dispute, it is for the court to make a decision, as it would in respect of an adult without capacity. This is the gold standard by which most of these decisions are reached. It is an assessment of best interests that has been concluded to be perfectly clear.”

Which again concluded that the care plan now in effect was in every respect, in the best interests of their son, and that it was the express desire of the court that the respondents at least help support the medical team assigned his care.

Appealing against the decision under Rule 52.3(1)(a)(iii) of the Civil Procedure Rules, the respondents argued before the Court of Appeal that the High Court had merely continued in its support of the cessation of medical ventilation, instead of clarifying as to the lawfulness of Alfie’s alleged detention at Alder Hay hospital, upon which the Court turned to Gard v United Kingdom, wherin McFarlane J had held that:

“It goes without saying that in many cases, all other things being equal, the views of the parents will be respected and are likely to be determinative. Very many cases involving children with these tragic conditions never come to court because a way forward is agreed as a result of mutual respect between the family members and the hospital, but it is well recognised that parents in the appalling position that these and other parents can find themselves may lose their objectivity and be willing to “try anything”, even if, when viewed objectively, their preferred option is not in a child’s best interests. As the authorities to which I have already made reference underline again and again, the sole principle is that the best interests of the child must prevail and that must apply even to cases where parents, for the best of motives, hold on to some alternative view.”

Thus the Court held again that:

“The application of a different legal label, namely habeas corpus, does not change the fact that the court has already determined the issues which the parents now seek, again, to advance. Their views, their rights do not take precedence and do not give them an “unfettered right” to make choices and exercise rights on behalf of Alfie.”

Before dismissing the appeal on grounds similar to those taken by the High Court; after which an application for the return of Alfie to Italy was presented to the High Court, based upon the granting of Italian citizenship by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, an act that was immediately refuted both on grounds of lineage and self-evident jurisdiction of the court, the latter of which was shown in Re B (A Child) (Habitual Residence: Inherent Jurisdiction) in which Lord Wilson had explained how:

“A child’s habitual residence in a state is the internationally recognised threshold to the vesting in the courts of that state of jurisdiction to determine issues in relation to him (or her).”

And that:

“Article 8 of Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 (“Regulation B2R”) provides that the courts of an EU State shall have jurisdiction in matters of parental responsibility over a child habitually resident there at the time when the court is seised.”

However the Court also noted that since the last hearing, Alfie had been successfully extubated from the ventilation unit, and was now breathing of his own accord, a change that moved the court to conclude that:

“[T]here arises an opportunity to explore creatively, ambitiously and even though it may be a forlorn hope, cooperatively, the options that may now emerge in a palliative care plan which could encompass, at least theoretically, Alfie being cared for, in his final hours or days, at home or in a hospice, or even on the ward and not in the PICU.”

Upon which the application was dismissed, and the matter now left for the respondents and Alder Hay Hospital to hopefully negotiate as best as possible with the time remaining.

White v White

English Family Law

White v White
Image: ‘Land Girls Farming’ by Georgia Fowler

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When a committed marriage runs its course, and the two parties responsible have amassed an estate of significant worth, should the ‘Duxbury paradox’ find just approval, or will the virtue of equality prevail?

After spending over three decades together as husband and wife, business partners and parents, the cross-appellants discussed not only invested exorbitant amounts of money into what was termed a ‘clean break’ divorce, but wound up fighting over percentages, whilst losing sight of the objective first presented to the courts.

Having contributed roughly equal amounts of time and capital into a successful farming business, it was felt by the wife that she needed to end the marriage, and strike out alone in a similar field. While on paper the division of assets appeared straightforward, there were anomalies in the form of individual benefit to inheritance by the husband through valuable farming estate and his decision to continue operating the business shared by the two parties, as opposed to liquidation in the wake of annulment.

During the original hearing, the judgment passed disproportionately in favour of the husband, leaving the wife with less than one-fifth of the estate value. This was calculated  through the application of the Duxbury fund principle, as first described in Duxbury v Duxbury. This antiquated approach to approximation of required financial assets is based upon the idea that in order to establish the requisite level of income for the wife in a divorce, the phrase ‘the longer the marriage and hence older the wife, the less the capital sum required for a Duxbury Fund’ will suffice.

Following an unsurprisingly swift challenge, the Court of Appeal sensibly reconsidered the previous judgment, and increased her award to two-fifths of the estate, upon grounds of equality and the principle that the increase in award had now provided sufficient funds (£1.5m) for the wife to not only start her new venture, but have enough to live on without the burden of stress or discomfort. Similarly, the remaining estate was healthy enough for the husband to continue working, albeit with short-term financial help from his extended family.

While taken on it’s weighting, the outcome would appear at risk of bias, however the ethos that divorcing parties should take steps to help each other start afresh, is clearly present where the dissolution of the joint enterprise would have placed the husband at risk of suffering, while the wife enjoyed the benefit of excessive capital for the purposes of need, despite making the choice to depart from a thriving and well-established business.

Thorner v Major

English Family Law

Thorner v Major
Image: ‘Farm’ by Denis Pannett

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While of a strictly familial nature, this case relies upon elements of land law and principles of equity for its proximation of fact. After a decade-spanning relationship of trust and obligation observed by the appellant, it falls to the House of Lords to lay to rest the true meaning behind the time shared between two cousins.

The core of this dispute rests within the subjective disparity of those seeking claim to the estate of a private farmer, and the man who knew him probably better than anybody. After growing up and working on his father’s farm, the appellant found himself extending his energies to his older cousin, after witnessing him suffering loss both through death and divorce. Having no children of his own, the cousin had continued to toil the land left him, and in turn looked to the appellant to help manage the considerably extensive freehold.

For one reason or another, the arrangement required no payment exchange, and so it was that until the death of the landowner, the two men worked the farm and developed it further, through an intimate relationship based upon the appellant’s unique ability to understand the emotion and intentions of a man renowned for his narrow vocabulary and deep introspection.

When upon his death, the appellant followed up on his understanding that the farm had been bequeathed him, the claim of succession was contested on grounds of proprietary estoppel, and the ambiguity of true intention displayed by the deceased. There were principally two events that triggered the assumption of his entitlement, namely (i) a gesture that indirectly disclosed the plans of the elder cousin in relation to deaths duties, and (ii) the inherent nature of their close friendship, and the disappearance and subsequent implied revocation of a will drawn up eight years prior to his passing.

Needless to say, the appellant had over the passage of time, made numerous adjustments to his own circumstances, in order that the relationship could sustain the changes discussed and alterations incorporated into the estate; and there were a number of other minor events that further supported his interpretation that he would be the sole successor of his cousin’s farm. Unfortunately for the respondents, the principle of proprietary estoppel relies upon the inability to identify the land discussed, therefore the challenge brought against the appellant was fundamentally flawed, while it was more importantly noted by one of the presiding judges that by all accounts, a constructive trust had by definition, been created through the dealings and partnering of the two individuals during the lifetime of their relationship.

AI v MT (Alternative Dispute Resolution)

English Family Law

AI v MT (Alternative Dispute Resolution)
Image: ‘Moses with the Ten Commandments’ by Rembrandt

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With the introduction of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in 2010, the essence of divorce and family proceedings became less governed by the rigours of litigation, and one more attuned to continuous and considered discourse between parties, on provisional terms that embraced the welfare of children and respect for individual rights.

After marrying relatively young, and moving quickly into starting a family, two devout members of the Jewish faith found themselves in stark opposition to how best they could live their lives, and in turn seek to end the marriage before occupying different countries.

When the matter of how contact could be set between the father and the two small children, it soon became a matter of contention, and one that ultimately drew guidance from the Jewish community, but overall authority from the English courts. When adopting ADR strategies, the emphasis is typically placed upon expedience and reduced costs; however due to such vast geographical differences, and intrinsic religious constraints, the process of divorce ran over a period of years versus months, and was certainly not without its frustrations.

What eventually emerged however, was that through a combination of delicate communication, respect for doctrinal traditions, cohesive written agreements and the balancing of the needs of the children, it was possible to overcome the potential pitfalls of cross-jurisdictional conflict, and move matters to a much more mature and objective conclusion; an outcome that had at times, seemed unlikely given the inclination by the parties involved to build walls between them, that served only to harm the children and drain financial resources more than was necessary.

Thankfully, it all came down to a successful collaboration of the Jewish authorities, domestic courts and continued willingness of the parents to collectively work toward a resolution that now stands as testament to the transcendence of ideology, in favour of a united family, even after the dissolution of marriage.

Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd

English Family Law

Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association Ltd
Image: ‘Time Clock Houses’ by Sunita Khedekar

Note: To read about this case in greater depth, and with the benefit of full OSCOLA referencing, simply purchase a copy of ‘The Case Law Compendium: English & European Law’ at Amazon, Waterstones or Barnes & Noble (or go here for a full list of international outlets)


The phrase ‘family’ has seen a number of changes over the last century, and so it is that the common law of the United Kingdom is expected to accommodate cultural shifts and the cosmopolitain nature of intimate relationships, when reaching a fair and balanced decision.

In this appeal case, the relationship between a private tenant and potential successor was that of two men, and upon the death of the elder partner, it was found that despite their twenty-year history and the deeply caring bonds between them, the wording of the Housing Act 1988 prevented the surviving party from inheriting the assured tenancy, and thereby remaining in occupation of the home they had shared together.

Because of the widening of interpretation concerning the proximity required to uphold succession, it became possible to appeal to the original judgment, and while the appellant relied upon two sections of the legislation, namely (i) para.2(1) which placed importance on the spousal aspect of relationships, a section which further relied upon the assumption that the two parties were of opposite genders, and (ii) para.3, which extended the right to succeed where those in occupancy at the time of the other’s death could show such living arrangements over a minimum two-year period, while under the scope of ‘family’.

The issue presented to the judges was not one of spousal qualification, but rather agreement that despite the non-traditional relationship between the two men, there did exist an intimacy that by all accounts, could be construed as familial. By applying a number of past and recent precedents, it fell to the five judges to subjectively determine if the statute prescribed by Parliament, contained within it, an ability to embrace the post-modern image of the family unit, without the need for statutory review.

In its conclusion, and somewhat expectedly, there was a fine division of judicial opinion that thankfully provided grace to the appellant, and allowed him to enjoy the home shared with his partner in the years before and leading up to, his passing.