The Court of Appeal has dismissed a father’s appeal against a refusal to adjourn proceedings in a care dispute.
Re U concerned a couple with five children. The oldest will turn 20 this year, while the youngest two, a sets of twins, are just three. Following concerns for their welfare, the local authority launched care proceedings for the four youngest children in May 2013.
In the Court of Appeal, Lady Justice King described the resulting proceedings as “…a paradigm example of care proceedings where the case management judges endeavour to have a case heard with expedition in the interests of the children was thwarted at every turn.”
As a result, she noted, the appeal proceedings were still ongoing at the time of the Court of Appeal ruling in mid-April, a full 22 months after they had begun.
The care proceedings centred on suggestions that the children had been subjected to physical abuse, and that they may have witnessed domestic violence between the parents. The oldest child, referred to as ‘ZU’, although too old to be included in the care, became involved in the case after accusing her father of sexual abuse.
At a fact-finding hearing, Judge Wilding concluded that the father had subjected the family to both physical and emotional abuse had taken place, and that domestic violence had been witnessed by the children.
The Judge said:
“The abuse against ZU, AU [the second oldest child], the mother and the paternal grandmother was sometimes very serious.”
Both children had tried to harm themselves on separate occasions.
Judge Wilding also found that the mother had on occasion physically chastised her children, and that she had failed to protect them from the father.
The parents had not been creditable witnesses, he continued.
“Their evidence to my mind was characterised by evasiveness, defensive responses, obstruction, obfuscation and downright lies. I preferred the evidence of ZU and AU in every respect in regards to these incidents and I find they happened as pleaded.”
The Judge also assessed the trustworthiness of a community worker referred to as ‘Raj’, who had fallen out with the parents. ZU had originally made her allegations of sexual abuse to him, and his motivations were subsequently questioned. Had he maliciously encouraged ZU to invent the allegations, in order to exact revenge on the parents? ZU, meanwhile, may been motivated by a desire to get her own back on her father for being too strict.
But the Judge rejected these suggestions. Raj was honest and his evidence more reliable than that of the parents, he declared.
After the judge’s ruling, social workers conducted an in-depth assessment of the parents, concluding that they presented too great a risk and that none of the four children should be returned to their care. The two oldest should be placed in foster care, they declared, and the youngest two placed for adoption.
Care and placement orders were made at a subsequent hearing last summer, formally taking the children into care.
Despite claims to the contrary by the mother, the parents remained a couple. The father underwent a criminal trial during which he was acquitted of the rape of ZU.
He then applied for the care case to be reheard , arguing that ZU had admitted during the criminal trial to having invented her allegations. The local authority would not accept this claim without a transcript of the hearing and the case was adjourned in order for this to be obtained. But it was not supplied and the Judge refused a further adjournment, siding with the local authority and the children’s guardian.
He declared that the need to minimise further damage to the children’s welfare through a continuing delay in resolution of the case outweighed possible injustice to the parents.
At the father’s subsequent appeal, however, Lady Justice King said Judge Wildling had not made his refusal purely on the basis of the missing transcript and the admission the father insisted was contained within that.
“The judge explained that there was no evidence to support the father’s submission other than his own assertions about what had happened at the trial…The judge concluded there were no grounds, let alone solid grounds, for revisiting his findings. The judge pointed to the fact that he had seen and heard all the witnesses and that he was alert to the father’s case that ZU had ulterior motives for making the allegations.”
The judgement is available here.