Child arrangements order application unfairly dismissed in the recent case G v M (FHDRA Appeal).
I often mention here the pressure put upon the family courts by the seemingly ever-increasing number of private law children application they have to deal with. Inevitably, this can mean that cases are not given enough time to be properly dealt with. One such case was reported a couple of weeks ago: G v M (FHDRA Appeal).
Now, before I go any further I should explain a couple of things, for the benefit of non-lawyer readers.
Firstly, as the title to this post explained, this case concerned an application by a grandfather for a child arrangements order, in relation to his granddaughter. Now, normally applications by grandparents for child arrangements orders require the permission of the court before they can be made. However, permission is not required if the child has lived with the grandparent for three years, provided that that period did not end more than three months before the making of the application.
Secondly, the first hearing of a child arrangements application is called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (‘FHDRA’). At the FHDRA the court will consider the case, whether it might be resolved by agreement, and how it should proceed.
OK, so to the case. The relevant facts were as follows.
We are not told the child’s date of birth, but we are told that she was aged 11 years and 9 months at the time of the permission hearing, on the 9th of May this year. We are also told that the grandfather had been her carer from her being a baby until the age of 9 years. She was then the subject of care proceedings, and in February 2018 the court ordered that she should cease to reside with her grandfather, and go to live with her mother.
The grandfather applied for permission to apply for a child arrangements order. He wanted to spend time with the child, and preferably have her live with him again. However, the child had made allegations ‘of a concerning nature’ against the grandfather, who absolutely denied any abuse or wrongdoing. She was interviewed by the police, but they decided that they did not have enough evidence to take matters further.
The FHDRA lasted just twenty minutes. The judge held that, as the child had lived with him for three years, the grandfather did not require permission to make his application, but he then dismissed the child arrangements order application, as recommended by a social worker. The grandfather appealed.
The appeal was heard by His Honour Judge Ahmed. His judgment included the following findings:
That the judge had been wrong in concluding that the grandfather did not require permission to make his application for a child arrangements order. It was correct that the child had lived with him for three years, but more than three months had elapsed since she had last lived with him.
That the judge had regarded the child’s wishes as determining the matter. He ruled out the need to obtain any further evidence, as “he was not able to see any circumstances in which, as things rested, the court would countenance the application going forward.”
That the judge made a finding that the child did not wish to see her grandfather on the basis of limited evidence, and failed properly to explore all realistic options to determine whether there was any alternative to there being no contact between her and her grandfather, who had cared for her for most of her life.
That the judge did not hear from the grandfather and gave no reasons for refusing to hear from him.
That the judge acted prematurely and unfairly in dismissing the application.
Accordingly, the appeal was allowed, and the grandfather’s application for permission to apply for a child arrangements order was remitted for rehearing, before a different judge.
The full judgment is here.
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