The case Re T (A Child): We’ve all seen those films that include a trial scene in which the defendant refuses to accept the authority of the court to rule over him. He does not have to answer to the court, which does not have the power to make orders that affect him.
But what would happen if a party tried this in a family court?
Well, that is what occurred in the recent case Re T (A Child), in which a father sought to argue that the court did not have the power to order that his children be taken into care.
This is, in fact, the second instalment of this case. I wrote about the first instalment here in this post in June last year. On that occasion, the father argued that his son’s birth should not be registered. As I explained in that post, the father, apparently genuinely (as found by the judge dealing with the case, Mr Justice Hayden), believes that he is a “sovereign being”, to whom laws made by the government by statute do not apply.
The Children Act
One such statute is, of course, the Children Act 1989, which provides the court with the power to make care orders in relation to children. And here the father claimed that he was not subject to the Act and that therefore the court had no jurisdiction to take decisions in relation to his children.
He therefore requested that Mr Justice Hayden determine as a preliminary issue whether he, as a “sovereign being” could be required to answer questions in the proceedings and, if not, he sought an immediate order for the return of all his children (this judgment related to one of his children, but the father also has other children, who have been made the subject of care orders).
As in the case last year, Mr Justice Hayden gave the father’s beliefs respect that many would say they do not deserve. He even allowed the father before giving evidence to take the oath based on an embossed document that he had prepared emphasising his “decree of divine sovereignty”. He explained that he permitted this “for entirely pragmatic reasons”, and that is entirely understandable.
Anyway, Mr Justice Hayden dealt with the father’s argument in a single paragraph:
“Whilst I recognise that F’s beliefs are strongly held and, I believe, genuinely so, I have little hesitation in concluding that he is required to engage as fully as possible in these proceedings, brought by this Local Authority to protect T from what they contend is ‘significant harm’, as contemplated by Section 31 (2) Children Act 1989 (‘the Act’). Parliament has enacted the legal framework by which vulnerable children are protected and provided scope for parental rights and responsibilities to be evaluated in the application of the criteria within Sec 1 (2) of the Act, ‘the welfare check list’. In that process it is in the parent’s interest to give evidence and to advance their case. Inferences may be drawn from any failure to do so. It requires to be stated that this is also and manifestly in the best interests of the child subject to the proceedings.”
As to the rest of the judgment, I will say no more, as I’m not sure that care proceedings are of particular interest to readers of this blog. If you wish to read the full judgment of the case Re T (A Child) you can find it here.
It may be thought that the father, in this case, was something of a ‘crank’ and that his argument is no more than an amusing aside. But there is a serious point here. It is not that unusual for parents involved in children proceedings to question the authority of the court, albeit usually for rather more prosaic reasons, such as a perceived general bias against mothers or fathers. But such an outlook is not going to help the parent. The court does have authority, and you should behave towards it accordingly. To allow your actions in court proceedings to be clouded by erroneous beliefs will inevitably do serious damage to your case.
In short, the case Re T (A Child) highlights the importance of leaving your beliefs and prejudices at the door of the court.