A couple excluded from care proceedings for the two year old granddaughter were granted permission to appeal in a sternly worded county court judgement.
When the couple, who live in Essex, learned that their daughter’s daughter, now two, had been taken into care, they applied for ‘special guardianship’, a type of fostering in which a child maintains legal links with their biological parents.
However, following a breakdown in communication with their legal representatives, the couple were excluded from a key hearing in October last year. Essex County Council opposed their application on the basis of a report by an independent social worker. This cast doubt on the couple’s ability to look after the child, “given their busy lifestyle and the number of children already in their care”.
The authority applied for the grandparents’ application to be dismissed from the care proceedings and the court agreed. The family argued that the social worker’s report only represented a “snapshot” of the their life but the court was unconvinced.
They successfully appealed. At Chelmsford County Court, Judge Newton said he was “deeply troubled” by the case and gave the couple permission to appeal “without any hesitation”.
The earlier court decision had been “procedurally unfair”. The couple’s lack of involvement meant their rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to fair trial – had not been “properly examined”, he said.
They should have been “given an opportunity to present their case and to cross-examine the witnesses”, he said. The rights of the mother and child had also been affected.
Judge Newton added: “I am deeply anxious about what occurred. I am deeply anxious that it has been necessary for this matter to be dealt with in the way that it has.” The earlier court decision had been “fatally flawed”.
At that point, the child was just two days from formal adoption. Following further proceedings, the couple won their case and the girl now lives with them. Judge Newton’s judgement was published following an application by Channel 4 News, who investigated the case earlier this month.
Essex County Council told the channel:
“This case involved very complex and finely balanced decisions which took account of a range of professional advice.”