A father has won his appeal against the suspension of all contact between him and his five year-old daughter.
In T (A Child), the girl in question, referred to as ‘E’, was born in December 2009. In his Appeal Court judgement, Mr Justice Cobb noted that she had been “been the subject of family law litigation for virtually all of her life.”
She is her parents’ only child to date. She lives with her mother and has had no contact with her father for close to two years and only very limited contact with him in the year before that.
Her parents are described as “highly educated, intelligent, professional people.” They met at university and married in 2000, separating a decade later. Social services became concerned around the time of E’s birth about the parents’ mental health issues and reports of domestic abuse, but care proceedings were withdrawn after mother and child spent a period of time living her parents.
Shortly after the couple separated, the father made an application for residence and contact, the first of many court actions. Mr Justice Cobb declared:
“The multiple court hearings, and judgments and orders which have flowed from them, reflect an extraordinarily high degree of conflict in the parental separation.”
He thought it unnecessary in his judgement to “rehearse in detail the extensive litigation chronology”, but did note that a previous judge had been concerned that the case was “in danger of spiralling out of control”, adding:
“Not only have the parents been in relentless conflict with each other, but the father has also raised repeated and serious allegations of professional misconduct against E’s court-appointed Guardian, against counsel instructed in the case at various times, and against some of the judges.”
At one point litigation concerning the case was taking place in three separate courts.
Following a complex series of events, contact between father and daughter resumed after an eight month gap at a contact centre in 2013 and these sessions were successful. But the father wished to see his daughter outside the centre and neither the mother and E’s legal guardian supported this proposal. Contact then ceased and by the time the case came before Her Honour Judge Hughes QC in May last year, matters had again reached a deadlock.
Judge Hughes refused the father permission to allow E to attend his wedding. During the hearing, the father accused the Judge of attempting court room reconciliation between the former couple, insisting that she should not hear the case if that was her intention.
A further programme of contact between father and daughter was proposed, before he made a series of abusive phone calls to one of the proposed centres. As a result the mother applied for all contact between E and the father to cease. She also applied for him to be made subject to a 91 (14) order. Issued under the Children Act 1989, these prohibit the person named from making new court applications regarding their children without prior permission.
Judge Hughes granted the orders, but the father and his parents launched an appeal. This proved successful because the orders issued had not, the Court of Appeal concluded, not fully complied with legal procedure. In suspending contact, the Judge had not properly considered the child’s welfare or her and her father’s rights to a family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Turning to the Section 91 (14) order, Mr Justice Cobb declared:
“In the circumstances, having regard to the deficiencies in the procedure [involved in making the orders], the insufficiency of a proper explanation of the rationale for the making of the order in the best interests of the child, and the absence of explanation as to the reason for its duration, we conclude that HHJ Hughes QC’s order in this respect is wrong and cannot stand.”
The case was remitted for rehearing , with His Lordship noting:
“By allowing this appeal, we are conscious that we are consigning these parties to a further round of litigation concerning E; this is particularly unfortunate given the history of this case, and the inevitable toll which it is taking on all of the parties…”
Read the ruling here.