A mother who discovered that her former partner had a rape conviction after they separated has won an appeal against extended contact arrangements.
In A (a child), the couple had separated after what was described as “rather volatile relationship involving heated rows, verbal abuse and some physical confrontation.” They had a son together, now aged four.
During a succession of hearings regarding contact between the father and his son, it emerged that the man had been convicted of rape in 1988 and served six years. He had also been accused of rape in 1993 but the case was dismissed.
During an interview with a Cafcass officer, the father was reportedly “vague” about the conviction. The officer also felt that he had a hostile attitude towards the mother, so she recommended that a ‘psychological risk assessment’ be carried out before any further contact between the father and son was allowed. He was at that point visiting his son at a contact centre.
The mother had not previously known of the man’s rape conviction and “was said to be worried about it”.
The father refused to cooperate with the risk assessment, but the order was confirmed by His Honour Judge Owen at a hearing in November last year. At the same hearing the judge specified new hours for contact between the father and his son and also made a number of findings about the mother. These concerned the mother’s attitude towards the father and the way she spoke about him to their son.
The mother appealed both the findings and the new contact arrangements. In the case of the latter, she argued that they represented a significant increase on the previous arrangements and also allowed the father take his son away from the contact centre. Following the introduction of these new arrangements, the father took the boy to his home on at least one occasion.
These new arrangements were halted when the mother was granted permission to appeal the ruling in March this year.
Sitting in the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice Black ruled in the mother’s favour. She said:
“I am persuaded that the judge was wrong, on the material that was before him, to make the order that he did. I stress that my conclusion about this is dictated by the particular facts of this case.”
She also accepted a legal arguments that there was insufficient evidence for the judge’s findings about the mother. The latter was also not been given a chance to respond, either in person or through submissions to the court.
Lady Justice Black noted:
“…there is no doubt that when findings (or what appear to be findings) are made, they influence the subsequent course of the case. They are carried forward to later hearings, whether in front of the same judge as is desirable in interests of judicial continuity or in front of another judge who has access to the judgment or a note of it. They are provided to experts to inform their assessments.”
Photo by Aaron Loessberg-Zahl via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence