A local authority in the north of England has lost its appeal a ruling that allegations of deliberate injury to a toddler had not been proven.
The case of A (Children) concerned a boy, called A in case reports, who is now just over a year old. When A was just a few months old, he was taken into hospital to be treated for whooping cough, and while there, doctors noticed that he had two rib fractures, then in the process of healing.
A ‘fact finding’ hearing began in court to try and determine or not the injuries had been caused accidentally or had been deliberate. If they had been deliberate, the hearing was also required to consider who may have been responsible for the fractures.
Sitting at Blackburn Principal Registry, Judge Rawkins decided that there the authority had been unable to prove allegations that the fractures had been caused deliberately.
“I arrive at the conclusion that I cannot be satisfied to the requisite standard that the rib fractures sustained by A were deliberately inflicted upon him.”
The authority appealed, claiming that the judge did not have sufficient grounds to reach this conclusion and arguing that his wording suggested that he had been looking for a higher standard of proof that a straightforward balance of probabilities. It also claimed that the judge had not set out his reasons for not accepting medical evidence in the case.
But the Court of Appeal was not persuaded by the arguments. The original judge had considered and weighed up all the evidence presented in court, not just the medical evidence.
In his appeal court judgement, Lord Justice McFarlane noted:
“…the judge, perhaps uncharacteristically for cases that are heard in the family justice system, was able to express himself as being satisfied that none of the family witnesses from whom he had heard had been evasive or had, in his view, been deliberately attempting to mislead the court.”
Significance had been attached to Judge Roker’s use of the word ‘deliberately’, noted the Lord Justice.
“…it indicates that the judge might have been considering that he could only make a finding against the mother if he was able to find that in some premeditated way she had deliberately inflicted the rib injuries on the child by some form of deliberate assault. Whilst that submission is initially attractive, it is hard to understand how an experienced judge would have that mindset.”
Judge Roker had set out sufficiently explained his reasoning, the Court of Appeal concluded, and he had fully aware of the allegations made, even if he had not set out these fully in his judgement.
The judge had heard the evidence first hand and he had been entitled to reach the conclusions he had. The appeal was dismissed.