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B (A Child) (Private law fact finding - unrepresented father) [2014] EWHC 700 (Fam)

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A fact finding hearing in this contact case had to take place, but although the mother had benefit of legal aid the father did not. The case was exceptional in that the mother had made serious allegations, including rape, against the father and the judge explained the difficulties of a family judge conducting questioning of the complainant in a case where there were sexual allegations. The judge sent this judgment to the Legal Aid Board and invited them to reconsider the father's application for legal aid as a matter of urgency - the application was reconsidered but again refused.

  • IMPORTANT NOTICE

    This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the child and members of her family must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

    Neutral Citation Number: [2014] EWHC 700 (FAM)

    CASE NO : DX13P00236

    IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

    FAMILY DIVISION

    BRISTOL DISTRICT REGISTRY

    Date: 27th January 2014

    Before :

    HIS HONOUR JUDGE WILDBLOOD QC

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Between :

    D (Applicant)

    - and -

    K (Respondent)

    -and-

    B (a child, by her guardian) (First Respondent)

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    The father, D, in person.

    Lucy Reed for the the mother, K.

    Richard Ellis (instructed by guardian) for the child, B.

    Hearing dates: 27th January 2014 and 12th March 2014.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    JUDGMENT His Honour Judge Wildblood QC :

    1. An issue arises in private law proceedings concerning B who is three years old. A fact finding hearing has to take place. One of the many serious allegations made by the mother is that she was raped by the father in 2010. The allegation of rape would be central to the fact finding hearing and so a court conducting that hearing would have to decide whether the alleged rape took place. The Father denies that it did. That allegation is not the subject of criminal proceedings.

    2. The mother has the benefit of legal aid. The father does not. His application for legal aid has been rejected. This judgment was given on 27th January 2014 with the intention that it should be referred to the Legal Aid Agency. I invited them to reconsider the father's application for legal aid as a matter of urgency. At the most recent hearing on 12th March I was told that the application had been reconsidered and had been rejected again. I am releasing this anonymised judgment for publication under paragraphs 16 and 18 of the Practice Guidance 'Transparency in the family courts - publication of judgments', issued on 16th January 2014 by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division.

    3. The Mother is K, and is in her mid 20's. The father, who is of similar age, is D.

    4. The Father's application is for contact. In the light of B's age, the factual analysis that takes place at the fact finding stage will be relevant for many years to come.

    5. The Father's application was made as long ago as 29 July 2013. It started before the Magistrates in the Family Proceedings Court. I transferred it to the County Court and then to the High Court. The case will be reserved to me.

    6. If ever there was exceptional private law litigation then this must be it. I say that for these reasons:

    i) The seriousness of the allegations involved.

    ii) The fact that if these issues were before a criminal court the Father would be prohibited by statute from cross examining the Mother in person. That is as a result of s34 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.

    iii) The allegation of rape is one of a number of serious allegations that are made. Any analysis of that allegation would have to be placed in context. I find it very difficult indeed to envisage how a judge asking questions on behalf of Father would be able to do so in a way that he felt was sufficient.

    iv) Fourthly and notwithstanding the provisions of Schedule 10 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 (which I have considered, although they are not yet in force) taking into account the point that I have made in iii) above and the fact that the judge could not take instructions, I have difficulty in seeing how that statutory provision in Schedule 10 would be perceived as sufficiently meeting the justice of the case.

    v) Where allegations of this seriousness arise it is very important that the respondent to the allegation is given advice. That advice cannot be given to him by the judge and could not be given to him by the representative of the guardian.

    vi) The issue that arises is of very real importance to the two adults but also to this child. If the Mother's allegations are substantiated there is a very real prospect that they may prove to be definitive of the relationship between this child and her Father.

    vii) In fact finding cases of complexity a judge is expected to give himself full and correct legal directions. It is vital that those legal directions are correct and take account of the positions of both of the parties immediately involved.

    viii) Although enquiry might be made of the Bar Pro Bono Unit or indeed of the Attorney General to see whether arrangements might be made for D to have free representation or the Attorney General to act as amicus curiae neither of those solutions presents itself as likely to be available and neither is anywhere near as satisfactory as D having his own representation. I regard it as highly unlikely that either avenue of enquiry would produce representation in any event. In March this issue was being investigated further.

    ix) As to the position of the Guardian's representative everything that I have said about the position of the judge applies in at least equal measure to the guardian's solicitor if not more so. The guardian's statutory role is to promote the welfare of the child. It is no part of the roles of the Guardian or of the children's solicitor to adopt the case of one party in cross examination or argument. After the fact finding case is resolved it is essential that both parties retain confidence in the guardian and in the institution of CAFCASS. I therefore cannot see that the Guardian or the child's solicitor could be expected to conduct cross examination on behalf of this Father.

    7. I am now going to quote from H v L & R. A similar issue arose in H v L & R [2006] EWHC 3099 (Fam) and Wood J said this at paragraph 24 about the prospect of a Judge conducting questioning of the complainant in a case where there was sexual allegations. "...for my part I feel a profound unease at the thought of conducting such an exercise in the family jurisdiction, whilst not regarding it as impossible. If it falls to a judge to conduct the exercise it should do so only in exceptional circumstances."

    8. I respectfully agree with Wood J and therefore, in January, asked the Legal Aid Agency to think again. As matters now stand, it seems highly unlikely that legal aid will be granted.

    His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood QC

    Circuit Judge, sitting as a Judge of the Family Division.

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Published: 17/03/2014

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