A High Court Judge has criticised the barristers involved in a long-running family dispute for interrupting each other excessively and allowing a court hearing to become a “shouting match”.
The case was the culmination of a series of disputes over a full ten years between the parents of a girl who is now 13, including multiple allegations of abuse. At the end of 2015 the father appealed a recent child arrangements order. The following year he unsuccessfully applied for permission to take his daughter to Hungary for a holiday, then for a resumption of contact, and finally, following unsuccessful mediation, for his daughter to be examined by a psychiatrist in order to ascertain whether or not she had been unduly influenced by her mother and her own wishes regarding the situation between her parents. A report was prepared but the Judge took issue with the resulting report.
The father appealed an unexpectedly final order granting him two hours contact per month on a number of grounds, including the suggestions that the Judge had not properly prepared for the case and that the abrupt end to the proceedings had not been in the teenage daughter’s best interests.
Reviewing a transcript of the hearing at which the order had been made, Mr Justice MacDonald said he had been struck by the number of the times the barristers for each side had interrupted each other, saying “discipline in the hearing appears to have broken down entirely”.
“The father himself begins to make submissions to the learned Judge, Miss Cooper, Mr Persson and Ms Topping [barristers for the father, mother and daughter] continue to make points with little order, structure or focus, and even Mr Gaye [the daughter’s legal guardian] enters the arena at one point.”
“The requirement for submissions to be made in a clearly defined order aims to ensure that each party has a fair opportunity to present their case on the issues that are before the court for determination. A failure by advocates [barristers] to assist the court in adhering to this requirement is corrosive of that aim. In this case, the reception by the court of properly sequenced submissions was rendered extremely difficult by a concerning tendency on the part of the advocates simply to interrupt each other in an effort to advance their competing submissions. It should go without saying that this mode of advocacy does not assist the court and is to be deprecated.”
As a result of this argumentative approach the father had not been given a fair chance to properly present his case, and as a result of this “serious procedural irregularity” his appeal should be allowed the Judge explained.
The ruling is available here.
Image by ASC Shakespeare Camp 2013 via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence