Family Law Week recently commented on an appeal following a case whereby a Family Court judge had failed to address safety concerns regarding a child and instead, decided to make no contact order “other than as agreed between the parties”.
The case in question involved a couple who had two children – a boy and a girl. The mother had left the family home and her children, who were initially cared for by their father. However, she eventually removed her young son from the home, although her daughter refused to leave.
The mother subsequently applied for orders under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 so that she would be able to see her daughter, and this was granted, with each child being placed with one of the parents and for contact, enabling the daughter to see her mother and the son to see his father.
Unfortunately, the young girl still refused to see her mother, who then applied for a contact order. It was during this hearing that a number of disturbing facts and allegations were revealed. One of the most shocking was the allegation by the father that the mother had been having an affair with his 26 year old son (her step-son) – an allegation which proved to have no supporting evidence whatsoever. In addition, the judge heard that the father was allegedly a cocaine user and had also introduced his 26 year old son to the drug. He was in the habit of acting obsessively and would not listen to reason.
Throughout the hearing, the father carried what was described as being a “bullying” demeanour, which both shocked and concerned the Cafcass officer present. Indeed, she was so taken aback that she suggested a course of action involving three activities:
- That a court order be issued to remove the girl from her father’s home and place her instead with her mother and brother
- That the Local Authority should be involved
- That a guardian be appointed for the girl, under Family Procedure Rules
Despite these revelations, it appears that the judge failed to acknowledge any of the warnings and the advice of the Cafcass officer. Neither did he issue a contact order, instead stating that he felt it more appropriate to leave it to the parents to reach an agreement regarding contact with their children.
The Court of Appeal learned about this ruling in a hearing which took place in November last year. Although the father did not appear on this occasion, the court found that that the previous judicial process “…was wholly inadequate for the important issue before the court relating to E’s future contact with her mother”. It was concerned about how the delay brought about by legal proceedings would affect the young girl who remained in her father’s house (her father currently being on police bail) and had had no contact with her mother or brother for almost a year.
It was instructed therefore, that the case be heard again before a different judge, a month later.