The President of the Family Division has criticised the length of time a care case has taken.
In Re F (A Child), Sir James Munby heard an appeal regarding the habitual residence of a child whose father was born in the United States and mother was born in Zimbabwe.
“It is a matter of very great concern to us that proceedings of a kind that Parliament has now declared are to be concluded within 26 weeks should still be on foot some 76 weeks after they were commenced and seemingly with no early end in sight.”
Since the proceedings began in December 2012, the mother had spent a great deal of time in South Africa and the father had also been abroad.
While Sir James said he understood that this explained such a long proceeding, “it can scarcely justify” a delay of that length.
The child in this case, called ‘F’ in the judgment, had been living in foster care for 17 months by the time the President became involved.
The appeal was sought by the child’s father against retired family judge Mr Justice Coleridge’s decision to declare that F was habitually resident in England and Wales.
The father’s argument was based on four assertions.
- That Mr Justice Coleridge had come to a decision without taking into proper consideration F’s level of social integration in England.
- That the judge did not consider this in an appropriate timeframe.
- He determined the issue without hearing the father’s case or giving proper notice.
- He gave undue weight to irrelevant facts and not enough weight to more relevant ones.
Sir James said that despite the mother, the local authority and the child’s guardian all asserting that Mr Justice Coleridge’s decision had been correct, even they “accept with resignation and understandable regret that the appeal must succeed”.
He concluded by extending the time for the father to appeal, despite the possible impact a further delay would have on F, and gave him permission to pursue it.
Photo by vastateparkstaff via Flickr