A grandmother has failed in her legal bid for contact with her nine year-old granddaughter after the family fell out.
In H (A Child) the grandmother had previously seen her granddaughter, called ‘A’, regularly but this situation came to an abrupt end following a row. At the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Ryder explained:
“Prior to February 2011, grandmother had extensive contact with A. In February 2011, contact came to an abrupt end as a consequence of what appears to have been a row between the grandmother and her daughter. That is A’s mother. About two weeks later, a situation arose whereby grandmother contacted both the police and Children’s Services concerning an allegation which she said A had made to her about her stepfather. The grandmother reported the allegation to the authorities without informing A’s mother. The allegation was investigated and in the course of that investigation, A denied that anything improper had occurred or that she had made the allegation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the investigation led to considerable feelings of ill will towards the grandmother on the part of A and her mother. The family has been estranged since these two events.”
The grandmother launched drawn-out legal proceedings for the right to see A. The case came before Mr Justice Holman in January last year.
He ruled that it was in A’s best interests to have contact with her granddaughter and ordered meetings between the two at a local swimming pool, facilitated by A’s legal guardian.
But A did not show up to the meeting and so the grandmother made an application to enforce Mr Justice Holman’s ruling.
Her application came before Judge Moir the following May. The judge noted that the planned meetings at the swimming pool had not been successful and said it would not in in her best interests for contact to be pursued any further.
“[Judge Moir] also acknowledged that A’s wish was that she did not want to have contact with her grandmother and that she had remained consistent in that view throughout the proceedings. A did have the benefit of contact with her wider family through her uncles and cousins. Grandmother confirms to this court today that sadly there is no interlocutor, that is no bridge, between the wider family, the child, the child’s mother and herself. [Judge Moir] weighed up the emotional harm to A of not seeing her grandmother against the harm which would result from trying to force her to have direct contact against her wishes. The judge concluded that direct contact was not practical in all the circumstances.”
The grandmother appealed this ruling on a number of grounds, seeking contact three times a year. But Lord Justice Ryder declared:
“I would wish to stress that family courts should proactively consider the strategy that has been set in cases of intractable opposition including whether a professional or the judge should communicate with a child in writing or face to face. The child’s wishes and feelings are not determinative. Her welfare is. The fact that a child declines to do something is not necessarily the end of a case.
This Court has had the benefit of the guardian giving advice to us about whether a question can now be put to A about whether she should see a judge …The children’s guardian tells this Court in terms he would not advise that course and that it would not be in her best interests. This young girl has moved on from the time at which she used to see her grandmother regularly and is now in the process of a step parental adoption application. She has no knowledge of the appeal before this Court.”
The judge continued:
“The children’s guardian would himself be unwilling to ask her further questions in the context of a request from the Court unless he is directed so to do. With his knowledge and to use his own words, the trust the child has invested in him in the past, he would be very reluctant to embark on that course now because of the harm he believes it would cause A.
In that circumstance, it seems to me highly unlikely that a further contested hearing at which the child is brought to see the judge even in informal circumstances away from a court building could achieve more than the present inadequate resolution. The risk of further harm to A is patent. On the facts of this case, therefore, I would conclude with hesitation and sadness that at the moment there is nothing further a court can or should be asked to do and accordingly that [Judge] Moir was neither wrong in her evaluation nor the order that she made.”