To some, the case of Re A (A Child) (Error of Fact in Judgment) may seem like a waste of precious court time, not to mention legal fees, but sometimes complete accuracy in a judgment is important.
The case concerned a father’s contact with his fourteen year old daughter, ‘A’. Although the judgment does not go into details, it tells us that A has been the subject of court proceedings over a number of years, Mr Justice Baker describing it as “one of those sad cases which have come back and forth to court on a number of occasions.” We all know of such cases.
On the last occasion that the case went before the court an order was made for indirect contact only between A and the paternal family, and the court also made a section 91(14) order providing that for a period of two years neither party should be able to make any further application for an order in respect of A, without the court’s permission.
As Mr Justice Baker said, the father was no doubt unhappy with the contact order (he was seeking direct contact), but his appeal, which was the subject of this judgment, was not about the order itself. Instead, the issue that Mr Justice Baker had to deal with simply concerned the father’s objection to one sentence in the judge’s judgment. Summarising the safeguarding enquiries that had been carried out by Cafcass the judge had said:
“Cafcass also filed a safeguarding letter dated 17th May 2015 which identified that there had been previous Cafcass involvement with proceedings for A in 2007, in the course of which a guardian had been appointed for A. Checks in relation to the father revealed that he had convictions for offences of serious violence towards his partner. The father does not accept the information contained within the Cafcass safeguarding, nor does he accept His Honour Judge Mitchell’s related findings.”
In his appeal the father sought to have the sentence beginning with the words “Checks in relation” deleted on the grounds that he does not have any convictions for offences of serious violence towards his partner. The father had raised this with the judge, but (somewhat surprisingly to me) the judge declined to amend the order, and told him that he would have to appeal.
As Mr Justice Baker said, the father’s case was unanswerable, as the reality was that that whilst the father did have convictions, they were for theft and assault occasioning actual bodily harm back in 1988, the assault not involving a partner. The father had been the subject of a number of criminal proceedings or investigations involving alleged offences against the mother, including an allegation of causing her grievous bodily harm, but on each occasion he had been found not guilty, or no action was taken against him.
Accordingly, the judge’s judgment was mistaken. The father particularly wanted the judgment corrected, as he was concerned that if in due course A were to read it, she would get an untrue picture of his background.
Mr Justice Baker agreed that the judgment should be corrected. He said:
“Although this is a point which may be thought to be of only marginal importance, nonetheless it seems to me right that the record should be correct. Accordingly, on this point alone I allow the appeal against the judgment and record that the sentence to which I have referred should be amended so as to read that: “Checks in relation to the father reveal that he had a conviction for an offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in 1988. Although he has been the subject of allegations on a number of occasions since then, he has not been convicted of any offence of violence.””
Mr Justice Baker did, however, point out that the above did not of course affect in any way the essential findings of the judge, or her decision in respect of contact.
As the case demonstrates, judgments are important documents, and not always for obvious reasons. It is therefore essential that they are accurate, particularly in relation to matters of fact.
The full report of Re A (A Child) (Error of Fact in Judgment) can be found here.
Image by faungg’s photos via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.