A father seeking the right to see his five year-old son has failed in a bid to stop his daughter giving evidence against him.
In Re B, the father brought the contact proceedings as he had not been able to see his son since the end of 2011. In response, the mother claimed the father had been violent during their relationship. He denied claims that he had made threats or pushed her down the stairs and broke her ribs.
The allegations of violence were relevant to the father’s application for contact so the family law courts decided to hold a fact-finding hearing to establish whether or not they were true. The mother wanted to involve the couple’s 13 year old daughter, referred to as ‘G’. She would give evidence at the hearing about the alleged violence. At a hearing earlier this year, Judge Cameron ordered that a family court advisor from Cafcass officer should meet with the teenager to discuss the possibility. Both the mother and father agreed a list of questions to be put to the girl and this was given to the Cafcass officer for consideration.
The father appealed Judge Cameron’s ruling, with her permission. His legal team argued that it was very rare for children to give evidence in cases featuring alleged domestic violence.
At the Court of Appeal in London, Lady Justice Black rejected the father’s arguments, saying the girl’s evidence in the case could be very relevant as she had witnessed some of the alleged violence.
Under guidance outlined in the 2010 case of Re W, the interests of all children involved in family court hearings in which one is to give evidence must be fully considered.
Lady Justice Black noted arguments that the G’s evidence would be limited by her age, the amount of time that had passed since the alleged incidents and the fact that the girl had not made any statements at the time they supposedly occurred. But Judge Cameron had taken these concerns into consideration, the Court of Appeal insisted.
Lady Justice Black said:
“In this case, it is unfair to the judge to suggest that she failed to take into account the potential limitations on G’s evidence and on the part it might ultimately play in the case.”
Judge Cameron had not yet made any decisions regarding use of the daughter’s evidence and this was relevant to the appeal decision, the Court of Appeal declared. The involvement of the Cafcass officer would help to ensure that giving evidence was not harmful to G.
Read the full judgement here.