COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)
ON APPEAL FROM
HIS HONOUR JUDGE MITCHELL
CANTERBURY COUNTY COURT
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LORD JUSTICE WALL
LORD JUSTICE LLOYD
| Martin Frank Stringer
There was no appearance on behalf of the Respondent
Hearing dates : 30th October 2006
Crown Copyright ©
Lord Justice Wall:
"The father (Mr. Stringer) shall not make any further applications to the court regarding the residence of the children or his contact with the children without leave of the court until the children have reached 16 years of age. Such application will require a psychological or psychiatric report indicating that the author has had sight of the guardian's report dated 17 September 2004 and the report of Dr Conn dated 1 August 2004 and that the father has engaged in treatment. The application to be heard by His Honour Judge Mitchell if practicable."
"We are in no doubt that we should give Mr. Stringer permission to appeal against the section 91(14) order made in his case. We do not propose to limit the ambit of the appeal to the question of the conditions attached to it. We think Mr. Stringer should be entitled to argue, if he wishes, that an indefinite order under section 91(14) (or, indeed any order under section 91(14)) should not have been made. Whilst his prospects of success in relation to the latter argument may be doubtful, we do not think it appropriate for the argument to be limited to the narrow, conditions point."
"This matter has been in this court before several different judges since 1999. The file, from memory, is well over a foot thick. Mrs. Stringer, the mother, has spent a fortune in legal fees and latterly has been representing herself. I think she told me on one occasion she had expended £22,000. Amongst other things, one of those amounts of money was when Johnson J dealt with an application when she wanted to change J's school. Johnson J expressed, in the terms that only he can, his dissatisfaction with the approach of Mr. Stringer, the father, who turned up and I think eventually consented to it when Mrs. Stringer had spent a fortune on legal fees."
"Subsequently, because both parties were representing themselves, in a case which I regard as an extremely difficult one and a case where the welfare of these children was seriously in doubt as a result of prolonged proceedings, I took the view that it was appropriate to appoint a guardian under rule 9.5 of the Family Proceedings Rules, and I am extremely grateful for the input not only of the guardian, Derek Carter, but also of Mr. Swales, solicitor for the guardian. I have to say that, without their assistance, this case would have been even more difficult than it is already. It was a great relief to have the experience of both those gentlemen in this court."
"He appears to have no concept about the welfare of the children, certainly their emotional requirements. He has a belief that he is right, that the system is wrong, the system has failed, the system is to be criticised. His approach is that he had contact before January 2003, therefore why cannot he have it again? He has no understanding at all of the emotional needs of these children and the damage that his behaviour could do."
"I am not going to go into details but at page 55 and 56 of the report Dr. Conn expressed considerable concerns as to the way in which Mr. Stringer dealt with his daughter. That is something again flagged up in the guardian's report. The result is that the guardian, having tried to engage Mr. Stringer further, he has come to the conclusion, as indeed, has Dr. Conn, that, unless there is any therapeutic input by possibly Dr Conn or others, Mr. Stringer should not see these children and that his contact with them could be positively damaging. I have to agree with those sentiments based on the evidence which is before me in the bundle."
"As I say, Mr. Stringer had indicated in a letter to the court he no longer wished to pursue the application but he was told by Mr. Swales that, notwithstanding that, he, on behalf of the guardian and Mrs. Stringer, were going to make various applications which they have done, one of which is that he should not make any further application to the court concerning these children unless it is with the leave of the judge.
I entirely agree. It seems to me that the court, the guardian and Dr. Conn have gone out of their way to try to establish a relationship between father and children. That it has not been possible to do so is quite clearly the refusal of father to engage with those persons and also to see that it is his behaviour which has the potential for causing emotional upset and harm to these two children. That he has not done so yet is a tribute really to mother's care and to the care no doubt given by (her husband) who is the father figure in this case, no matter what Mr. Stringer may feel.
It is in some respects with a sadness that I reach that conclusion. I am convinced that had Mr. Stringer engaged with the process a means would have been found whereby he could have assisted and contact could have taken place with a view to developing it into a regime which is the sort of regime with which all family courts are familiar, namely to a position whereby in the future there could have been staying contact, there could have been holidays. That he rejected that course of action is entirely to be laid at his door. The welfare of these children is paramount. It is to be protected. The only way, in my judgment it can be protected is if an order is made under section 91(14) of the Children Act prohibiting any further applications without the leave of the court.
These proceedings have been dragging on for five years. These children's lives have been emotionally in turmoil as a result of Mr. Stringer's applications to the court. That they are not maladjusted is really a tribute to the mother and her partner, because one knows that the sort of behaviour that Mr. Stringer has exhibited cannot be other than detrimental to these children. As I say, it is fortunate that they have the mother's strength of character to protect them from the worst of his excesses.
In those circumstances, I propose to make the order. It will bear the attachment that any such application should come before me if practicable. I am well aware that, as a judge, one cannot look to the future but for entirely unforeseen reasons I may not be here. I also take the view that that part of the order will recite that really no consideration should be given to it unless there is some form of report from a psychiatrist or a psychologist indicating some progress so far as Mr. Stringer is concerned so that Mr. Stringer will realise when he gets the order that that is what the court has in mind and also so that any other judge who might be seized of this matter might realise that that was in the court's mind when the order was made."
Previous orders made in the proceedings.
Should a section 91(14) order have been made at all on 27 September 2004?
"I am writing in addition to my letter to you dated 13 May 2005 enclosing a copy of a latter dated 8 September 2004 from John Swales solicitors which sets out their proposed intention to ask for an order under that section.
I am unable to find a copy of the formal application, if one were issued, within the court file."
"The applicant is not denied access to the court. It is a partial restriction in that it does not allow him the right to an immediate inter partes hearing. It thereby protects the other parties and the child from being drawn into the proposed proceedings unless or until a court has ruled that the application should be allowed to proceed. On an application for leave, the applicant must persuade the judge that he has an arguable case with some chance of success. That is not a formidable hurdle to surmount. If the application is hopeless and refused the other parties and the child will have been protected from unnecessary involvement in the proposed proceedings."
"Tragically, when I contacted Martin Stringer by telephone to try and make an appointment to discuss Dr. Conn's report, he was unwilling to meet with me, and expressed the view that the report was so worthless and prejudiced against him that he would not wish to discuss it. Not only did Martin refuse to make an appointment to see me, he also told me he had no interest in seeing my forthcoming report. He has no accommodation of his own at this time and I therefore persisted in asking how I should serve the report on him. Martin repeated his unwillingness to read or consider my report, and I undertook to lodge an additional copy of it with the Court office when it is filed on 20 September."
"9.6 I recommend that an order be made under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 that no application for an order under the Act be made by Martin Stringer without the leave of the court. (This is something which has previously been canvassed in Court, and the possibility of which Martin Stringer has been given notice.)"
9.7 If the Court accepts the recommendation under section 91(14) it may wish to make an indication that any application by Martin Stringer for leave to make an application under the Children Act should be accompanied by a psychiatric/therapeutic report regarding his progress in therapy and attesting to the therapist's awareness of issues in this report and that of Dr Conn (cf paras 7.6 and 8.5 above)."
"…he issues around contact for the children were so serious that in fact further direct contact should only take place once Martin had attended therapy for a substantial number of months and produced evidence that his psychological functioning had improved in respects relevant to his appreciation of the needs of the children and his ability to deal reasonably and rationally with the issues and with the adults who would be important in setting up the contact and assessing it –ideally, of course, this would include the mother as well as professionals."
Dr Conn's report
Mr. Stringer's letter seeking permission to withdraw
"… no realistic chance in succeeding in his application for residence with Contact to the mother, as was obvious from the tactics of the Court last November onwards, and thus there is no point at this stage in father continuing to fight this case, and he respectfully asks that the application be allowed to be withdrawn to save court time and public money."
Mr. Stringer's submissions
"The section 91(14) order has now run for 2 years and in effect longer, since I have not had any family life with my children for 4 years. Any normal and reasonable use of this "draconian" section, even when necessary, would have limited it in time to up to two years. In this case, the order was not necessary, and it was not employed in a reasonable fashion, and has now run its course in any case.
I respectfully submit that the section 91(14) be removed so that I can prove my innocence in the Child Cruelty and other matters and a family life can be restored in accordance with the Human Rights Act."
Lord Justice Lloyd:
Lord Justice Chadwick: