Parents who were ruled to have inflicted “non-accidental injuries” on their child have been allowed to appeal the decision.
In Re M (A Child), the boy had been admitted to hospital with several bruises when he was only eight weeks old.
There was a concern among the doctors who treated the child, identified as ‘M’ in the judgment, that the bruising was a result of “non-accidental injuries”. The police were involved but took no action against the parents. As a result, the local authority applied to the court for a fact-finding hearing.
The local authority wanted to find out if Section 31 of the Children Act 1989 was applicable in this case. This would give the council the authority to take M into their care if there was evidence that “the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm” as a result of his parents’ care.
The judge in the fact-finding hearing concluded that the bruises “could not have been caused by the baby himself” so she was satisfied that “the injuries sustained by M were non accidental”. She also declared that the parents were both possible perpetrators.
Both parents took their objection to the Court of Appeal. Lord Justice Ward said that, unlike other injury cases, this one did not involve “a child with a broken leg, or a shaken baby, or a cigarette burn, or finger pressure marks”. He said “we simply do not know” exactly what happened.
Lord Justice Ward added that he was troubled by the original judge’s “leap” when she said that because an explanation could not be found, the parents must have had something to do with it. As a result, he allowed the parents appeal.
Despite this, the judge lamented that the appeal was not against a specific order. He noted that “no order has been drawn which is strictly capable of being appealed” in this case, which was “so typical” of fact-finding hearings in the Family Division.
He added that he had brought up this point before, but “nobody takes any notice” and that the “rantings of an old man are simply passing into the ether”.
To read the full judgment, click here.
Lord Justice Ward is not the first senior judge to publicly discuss the problems inherent in fact-finding appeals. Earlier this year, Lord Justice Kitchin warned against appealing fact-finding decisions.