Family Law Week reported that The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, recently heard what is believed to be the first case in England in which an allegation was made that a child was subjected to Female Genital Mutilation.
Care proceedings were brought by Leeds City Council in November 2013, after a child, then aged two, was found in the street, having seemingly been abandoned by her mother. The child and her brother, then aged three, were shortly thereafter placed in foster care. The girl’s foster carer then raised concerns that she had noticed that the child had ‘irregular genitalia’.
The children’s parents, both Muslims of African origin, were married in 2009 but had since separated. Each sought to have both the children placed with them.
Evidence was heard from three medical experts, although criticism was made of two of the examinations. The judge concluded that there was no firm evidential basis of the mutilation and that he did not consider the girl to be at risk.
The court also heard that the children’s mother suffered from a schizo-affective disorder with depressive traits. The woman, though in remission at the time of the hearing, was considered vulnerable to experiencing a stress-induced relapse. In the past, she had acknowledged to various professionals that she had been the victim of domestic abuse and called the police to incidents on two occasions in 2013, but there was no other independent corroboration of her allegations. Moreover, she had now retracted all of her allegations of domestic abuse. Her husband denied that he had been physically violent to her.
The woman admitted that she had abandoned her daughter in a city centre alleyway in November, 2013. She also accepted that she had hit her son on the back and face in October, 2013, although both adults claimed that the other had hit the children.
Both children had missed health visitor and medical appointments and the mother’s history of engagement with mental health services had been poor. Both parents had displayed an uncooperative and sometimes hostile attitude to social work involvement. However, it seems that the father’s attitude had changed and he was now cooperating and engaging well with the local authority.
The judge found that the mother was unable to look after the children, that there had been some physical violence by the husband towards his wife and that the children had experienced instability and inconsistency of care. However, he felt that it was likely that none of these things had had a significant or prolonged impact on either child.
Finally, he agreed with the local authority that, failing adoption, the children’s best interests would be served by placing them with their father, subject to a supervision order.