The judge, a recorder at the Leeds Family Proceedings Court, had been asked to determine whether the father of an eight year-old girl had been sexually abused by her father. The girl had made the allegations but she was not asked to give oral evidence to the court. In addition, there were no plans to call the girl’s mother as she had mental health issues and did not wish not to give evidence.
The judge described the father a “very disturbing and worrying individual”, but declined to make findings of sexual abuse as, he believed, the father had not been given a fair trial.
The judge explained:
“The fact is father has been hit with ‘a double whammy’. Not one but two of the most important witnesses in this case are unavailable to him for cross-examination. In my judgment, that is unfair or at least creates the perception of unfairness…”
When the mother was told of this decision she changed her mind and offered to give evidence after all. But the recorder refused to hear this evidence, saying that he had already given judgement and so to reopen the case would increase the perception that the father had not received a fair trial.
Leeds City Council successfully appealed this ruling. Sitting at the Court of Appeal with Lord Justices Patten and Richards, Lord Justice Thorpe described the recorder’s ruling as “a bizarre piece of reasoning and a bizarre conclusion.”
“The question of fairness is objective and not subjective,” he added, saying that the recorder could not claim that the absence of evidence from the mother meant the father would not have a fair trial and then claim that the introduction of that evidence from also prevent a fair trial.
The case was sent back to the Leeds court.
Photo of Leeds by andrew_roberts_UK via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons licence