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Fact finding hearing should be reheard, President rules

A court hearing which found parents responsible for injuries of which they were later acquitted in a criminal court must be reheard, the President of the Family Court has ruled.

In X (A Child), a baby boy was made the subject of care proceedings not long before he was born in 2012. The local authority also sought permission to have the infant adopted.  Part of the process involved a fact-finding hearing concerning various injuries which the council believed had been inflicted by the parents, including bone fractures.

A number of medical experts submitted evidence and a Judge ruled in favour of the local authority, declaring the case against the parents proven. Subsequently the same judge approved full care and placement orders for the baby.

X was placed with foster carers who later applied to adopt him. The parents applied for leave to oppose their application but were refused. By that point a criminal investigation was already underway and investigators had begun to collect and compile new, more extensive evidence on the injuries suffered by X.

The adoption went ahead under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, legally ending the birth parents’ relationship to X. Unfortunately the story did not end there. The criminal case against the parents proceeded to Crown Court and there it was abandoned in face of compelling new evidence. The couple were formally acquitted because there was no case to answer.

They then appealed against the earlier fact-finding hearing which had declared them responsible for the injuries. The couple received support from both X’s legal guardian, who said he had the right to know the truth about his parents, and even the adoptive parents.But the perspectives of the two sets of parents differed from that point: the birth parents said they would try and have the adoption order overturned if the fact-finding hearing was reversed, while the adopters said they would oppose this.

Sir James Munby said of the parents

“They seek to clear their names, both so that they may be vindicated and also so that there is no risk of the judge’s findings being held against them in future, whether in forensic or in any other context.”

A rehearing was “appropriate”, he concluded, although the President stressed that it “by no means assures them of success in [later] seeking to have the adoption order set aside.”

Adoption orders could only be cancelled “in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances” Sir James explained.

He quoted from a ruling gave in an earlier case also called Re X:

“…an adoption order … has an effect extending far beyond the merely legal. It has the most profound personal, emotional, psychological, social and, it may be in some cases, cultural and religious, consequences. …Moreover, these consequences are lifelong and, for all practical purposes, irreversible.”

The rehearing is scheduled for October.

The ruling is available here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Philip Measures says:

    Where does this leave parents who have never been charged / where the CPS has decided not to proceed.

    Are they left in a worse judicial position because a Fact Finding can seemingly proceed unfettered by a Not Guilty Finding?

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