A recently published judgment from a case in which a mother was accused of causing injury to her child finally acknowledges the importance of addressing serious procedural errors in family court cases.

LexisNexis has produced a very good summary of the case, an extract of which we’re adding below:

“A fact-finding hearing took place in early 2021 in care proceedings involving a girl, S, then aged 6½ years of age. The principal issue arising in the hearing was the cause of injuries sustained by another child, J, a boy then aged 5½ years of age. Other findings sought by the local authority related to allegations of domestic abuse by the father, Y, towards S’s mother, X, and J’s mother, A’s misuse of ketamine. The judge found that J’s injuries had been sustained accidentally but some had been inflicted by A. A appealed on the basis of, amongst other things, a serious procedural irregularity contending that she had cognitive difficulties which were unidentified. She filed a redacted cognitive and psychological assessment to support the appeal.”

The summary also explains that:

“The failure to identify A’s cognitive difficulties and to make appropriate participation directions to ensure that the quality of her evidence was not diminished as a result of vulnerability had amounted to a serious procedural irregularity. As a result, the outcome of the hearing was unjust.”

While the appeal has been allowed on the ground that the mother, who was found to be vulnerable because of her cognitive difficulties, did not have a fair opportunity to present her case (among other grounds), the LexisNexis summary mentions that any subsequent hearings might not alter the original outcome of the case.

However the judgment itself says:

“In the period between the fact-finding hearing and the appeal, S, who had been removed from her parents’ care, is living with family and is apparently thriving in their care. Meanwhile, in part as a result of the findings, the local authority has started further care proceedings in respect of J and his brother, although they remain at home under an interim supervision order. The future of all three children may therefore be affected significantly by the outcome of this appeal.”

You can read the judgment for free on BAILII.

Another judgment to note this week stems from an abduction case in which the father took his three-year-old daughter to Switzerland. The court ordered the daughter’s return to her mother in England.

The father alleged that he was a victim of the mother’s bullying, and had taken his daughter to Switzerland to protect them both.

Justice Hayden, who oversaw the hearing, rejected the father’s allegations and said the move would cause the child to suffer significant emotional harm:

“This was a cold and meticulously contrived abduction which required a great deal of careful planning. It not only separated A from her mother but from her siblings too. I am told that she is brought up to speak French which her mother does not speak. She is entirely deracinated from her maternal family with no recognition by F of the extent to which that will cause her lifelong harm and, ultimately, come to corrode her relationship with him too… By contrast, I feel confident that M, for all the challenges she faces, has an instinctive warmth and understanding of her children which, properly supported, will enable her to provide a more secure emotional base for A,” Hayden said in his judgement.

There is a very good summary of the case on LexisNexis as always, for those with subscriptions. The judgment itself can be read for free on BAILII.