A judge bullied a mother into agreeing to care orders for her two children, the Court of Appeal has found. The orders made by Her Honour Judge Carr QC in Sheffield were set aside by the Court of Appeal and replaced with short-term interim care orders.
The Court of Appeal raised a number of serious concerns in its judgment. The now common practice of judges making up their minds about a case before the parties put their arguments forward during hearings was noted, a phenomenon that will be familiar to lay advisors and families who have been forced to represent themselves in their own family cases.
Lord Justice Peter Jackson sitting at the Court of Appeal said that there had been “a serious procedural irregularity.”
The judgment says: “consent or non-opposition to the interim care order was not freely given, but was secured by oppressive behaviour on the part of the judge in the form of inappropriate warnings and inducements”. These included:
- The judge repeatedly isolating the mother and threatening her
- The judge making fun of her counsel
The Court of Appeal also noted that family law and social work professionals in the case appeared to know very little about the case’s details and that the local authority had mishandled the case and its approach to the appeal.
Legal Futures offers the background to the case and quotes from the judgment, which contain some of the judge’s comments:
Before the mother’s barrister was able to brief the judge on his instructions to contest the care order, HHJ Carr told him that “if it is heard today I shall certainly make findings that your client will be stuck with”.
Her Honour HHJ Carr used the following language, which amounted to bullying and coercive threats, before hearing the case: ‘very risky for her’; ‘a very very precarious position’; ‘inevitably, I’m going to make findings… that that is significant harm. I don’t think there’s any question about it’; ‘not… without some consequences’… “oh, nonsense” and “preposterous proposition you’re putting to me, it’ll fall on deaf ears.”
HHJ Carr also threatened the mother by telling her that she would probably send any findings to the police and make sure that they go to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Jackson LJ said: The only conclusion that the mother and her advisers could draw from this and similar statements… is that the judge had made up her mind and was sure to make adverse findings that would be damaging to her in the long run.”
This kind of behaviour is commonplace in the family courts. We would like to invite all those lay advisors and parents who have experienced this kind of bullying and pre-emptive decision making to leave their comments below this piece as the site is read by judges and politicians. Thank you.