Family Law Hub

VJD v NAH [2012] EW Misc 15 (CC)

  • Case No: RM11 P 02263

    Neutral Citation Number: [2012] EW Misc 15 (CC)

    IN THE ROMFORD COUNTY COURT

    Date: 11th May 2012

    Before:

    HIS HONOUR JUDGE JOHN PLATT

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    Between:

    In the Matter of C A H a child

    V J D

    Applicant

    -and -

    N A H

    Respondent

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    Hearing dates 13th April and 4th May 2012

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    Judgment

    1. This case is all about a girl C who is now nearly 10 1/2 years old. The parties are her parents and I will refer to them as the mother and the father. C wishes to be baptised as a Christian. Her mother does not agree to this.

    2. Both parents are Jewish as are all four grandparents. The parents were married to each other on 26th May 1996 and divorced on 11th June 2010. They have two children C born on 5th November 2001 and a boy A born on 9th October 2006. Following their divorce the parties have agreed a shared parenting arrangement under which the children live with each parent alternately for a week at a time.

    3. Following the breakdown of the marriage the father has converted to Christianity. For the past two years with the agreement of the mother both children have been attending Christian church services with the father on the alternate Sundays that they are with their father. In the summer of 2011, again with the agreement of the mother, the father took the children to a Christian festival called "New Wine" which is organised by a well established group of Christian churches . The mother accepted in her evidence before me that on returning from that festival C had first told her she had come to believe in God and wished to be baptised.

    4. On 17th November 2011 the mother applied without notice to the father for a prohibited steps order and the court made an order forbidding the father from baptizing, confirming, or dedicating either child into the Christian faith. The order issued by the Court incorrectly states that it was made by me. It was in fact made by a District Judge.

    5. That application was prompted by a conversation which mother had had with C following a long telephone conversation between C and her father on the evening of 13th November 2011. According to the mother C confessed that she had initially lied to her mother about the subject matter of her conversation with her father and then confessed that she had been talking with her father about doing a course which would lead to her being baptised as a Christian and that her father had told her not to discuss this with the mother.

    6. The fact that the mother chose to make her application ex parte is an issue which has assumed considerable significance in this case and I will have to return to it later. In any event the parties appeared before me on 28th November 2011 when I discharged the without notice order and simply made an order that neither child was to be baptised or celebrate a bar mitzvah without the consent of the other parent until further order or the final hearing. I directed the filing of statements on the issue of whether C should be allowed to be baptised and ordered a report from Cafcass on the child's wishes and feelings on this issue. That report has now been filed and I have read it together with the statements which the parents have filed. I have also heard oral evidence and submissions from both parents.

    The father's case

    7. The father's case is this. He has always accepted and has no intention of denying his or his children's Jewish heritage and culture. He accepts that both his children have been born of a Jewish mother and consequently are and always will be Jewish. He says that neither his own parents nor the mother's parents have ever strictly observed what would be regarded as the outward manifestations of the Jewish faith, for example by regular attendance at the synagogue or observance of Jewish festivals or Kosher dietary rules.

    8. The same comment applies equally to his own and his wife's behaviour during the marriage. The only occasions on which they attended the synagogue were as guests at a wedding or bar mitzvah celebration. Neither of them took any steps to provide the children with any instruction in the Jewish religion not did they celebrate or observe any of the religious festivals in the Jewish calendar. They would often be at work on Jewish holy days. He accepts that A was circumcised in accordance with Jewish custom but denies that this had any religious significance so far as he was concerned. From his point of view there were good medical reasons for the child to be circumcised and it accorded with the wishes of both grandparents.

    9. In consequence neither of the children have grown up practising any religious beliefs. That is not to say that they have been brought up without any moral principles. They have been taught to be obedient to their parents, and to understand the difference between right and wrong, principles on which the Christian and Jewish faiths are effectively indistinguishable.

    10. More than two years ago although the marriage had come to an end but while the parties were still under the same roof, the father experienced what he described as a meeting with God as a result of which he decided to become a Christian. In his words he began to pray to God, read the bible, pray and worship as a Christian and to live his life in accordance with the teachings of Jesus. He started attending church each Sunday which naturally excited the interest of his children. They asked if they could come with him and with the agreement of the mother they have been attending Church regularly ever since. As he points out this has enabled the children for the first time to learn not only about Jesus but also about those parts of the Christian religion contained in the Old Testament which are common to both Judaism and Christianity.

    11. He is adamant that this request to come to church with him emanated from the children themselves and is not something which he initiated or has ever insisted on. When he became a Christian and the children started coming to church with him, he was faced with accusations raised by his parents and parents in law that he has "brainwashed" the children. In answer he points out that he was perfectly happy for the mother or any of those adults to take the children to the synagogue, to teach them about the Jewish faith and instruct them in Jewish laws and customs. Apart from one occasion when his mother took the children to the synagogue on a Friday evening nothing of this kind has happened.

    12. On the way back from the New Wine festival in the summer of 2011 C told the father that she had experienced an encounter with God and wished to be baptised. He was initially sceptical being concerned that the child was in his words "on a high" coming from the intense experience of the festival and that she might later calm down and go off the idea. Both parents accept that C has a very close relationship with her father and he was also concerned that she might want to be baptised simply in order to copy him.

    13. He told C that she would have to wait and informed the mother of what had happened. He assured her that he would not do anything further without first discussing it with her. His purpose was to see if C remained sincere about her faith before committing herself to becoming a Christian. When C raised the subject with him he put her off with excuses such as that there were no baptism classes available at the time.

    14. It came as a complete surprise to him to learn from the Sunday school leader early in November 2011 that C of her volition had gone behind his back and spoken to the leader asking him to speak to the Minister about her being baptised. In fact at the time there were no baptism classes planned at his church.

    15. The father accepts that he was unhappy with C for approaching the Sunday school leader behind his back and he made his feelings clear to her during the telephone conversation of 13th November 2011. He denies that he had any intention of arranging for C to be baptised without prior discussion with the mother or any opportunity to do so. He of course was not present at the conversation between C and her mother but he does not accept the version given by the mother. He was fully expecting to have the opportunity to discuss the issue with the mother before any decision was taken.

    16. He feels very strongly that the action by the mother in obtaining an order against him without any notice or prior attempt at discussion or negotiation was not only totally unnecessary but more important it has presented C with a picture of her parents being at war with each other over an issue which should have been resolved without court proceedings. The resulting tension between her parents has had some adverse effect on her performance at school. He regards the timing of the application as particularly significant since it came shortly before his remarriage and he sees it as a spiteful overreaction by the extended maternal side of the family to that event.

    17. His position is that C is a very bright and mature girl who regularly achieves school results a year ahead of her biological age and who knows her own mind. The mother does not dispute this. He reacted appropriately and cautiously to C's initial expression of her wishes to be baptised putting her off to see if she would remain firm in her commitment. She has done so now for about ten months, clearly expressing her wishes to her father, her mother and the Cafcass officer. His view is that she is mature enough to take what is only the first step in a journey in faith by being welcomed through baptism into the community of her Church. He considers that not only should her wishes and feelings be respected, it is in her welfare interests to be allowed to go forward for baptism at the next available opportunity. In his view the real opposition to C's wishes comes not from the mother but from the grandparents.

    The mother's case

    18. The mother accepts that C has been brought up in a household where the practises of the Jewish religion were not observed and the children have not been taught anything about that religion either by their parents or by receiving instruction at the synagogue. She says that was because the father effectively controlled her and prevented her from practising her religion. She gave in to his wishes and did not accept invitations to attend family celebrations on Jewish holy days. However she accepts that since the shared care arrangements came into effect she has not taken any positive steps to introduce the children to the teachings and practises of the Jewish faith beyond lighting a candle in the home on Friday nights and explaining its significance to the children.

    19. She also accepts that C did inform her of her wish to be baptised when she returned from the "New Wine" festival. She also accepts that she spoke to the father about this and it was agreed that they would have a further discussion before any decision was made . Her account of the events of 13th November 2011 is that C had a long telephone conversation with her father during the evening and then gave the mother an explanation which she did not challenge. C then came to her and confessed that she had lied about the conversation and that she had been talking to her father about attending an after school course which would lead to her being baptised and that her father had told her not to speak to the mother about this and indeed instructed her to lie if the mother asked her anything about this.

    20. She was so concerned about what C had told her that she immediately consulted solicitors and decided to apply for a without notice injunction.

    21. Her firm belief is that C is too young and immature to make such an important decision in her life and that this should wait until she reaches the age of sixteen. In her second statement she described speaking to C about the reasons why she wanted to be baptised and stated that the child "could not really give me a reason why". However in the course of her evidence she accepted that C had given her the reason which was that she believed in God.

    22. She also expressed her concern that C was over influenced by her father. In her second statement she actually described C as being "terrified of her father". When I asked her why, if that were true, she had agreed to a shared parenting arrangement which appeared to be working well she withdrew that assertion and stated simply that the father was much stricter in his parenting of the children than she was.

    23. She has also exhibited a text message sent to her by the father in the course of the proceedings which reads in part as follows:

    "Can I suggest that you speak to C thoroughly before you write your statement to the court and consider how you (and your parents) actions will sit with her before you continue with this. I re-spoke with her a few times and she is absolutely adamant that she wants to be baptised. If she wasn't I would not have continued, but she is absolutely dead set. Don't damage your relationship with her any further by being the mother who didn't talk and listen to her.

    I'm asking you to consider this for C's sake and also for your sake (by which I mean for the sake of your relationship with her). I have made a promise to C that I will fight for the right for her to practise and grow in her faith, and so can't back down. ..."

    Her case is that this text shows that it is the father's wish to ensure that C becomes a Christian rather than her own free will.

    24. She also points out that the events of the past two years have been very stressful for the children, first with the divorce, then the father's decision to remarry first one woman and then another whom he has now been married to for five months.

    The Cafcass report

    25. The Cafcass officer was directed to file a report on the wishes and feelings of the child as to her baptism into the Christian faith. She visited C twice, once at the mother's home and once at the father's home. At the end of the visit to the father's home the officer took a short walk with C on her own to clarify her wishes and feelings. The report states that "C presents as a bright engaging child who is able to offer her own views and opinions. She is very clear in saying that she wishes to be baptised into the Christian faith. She is able to give some reasons for this and said she wishes to show her commitment to her community." The author of the report then clearly and fairly points out the various considerations which will inform the decision of the court which are all matters which have been fully canvassed in evidence before me.

    26. The report concludes as follows:

    " In my role as a family support worker I am unable to make any recommendations to the court (my emphasis). However in consultation with my Service Manager I would recommend.

    a. C's current feelings are noted, acknowledged and respected by the court and both her parents.

    b. The parents to ensure C has access to information and teaching of both her parents' faith to enable her to fully understand her choices and the implications of this.

    c. the matter be reviewed in two years time, when C may have acquired the maturity and information to be able to make a fully informed decision.

    d. there should be a contact activity order for the parents to attend a Parenting Information Programme and work to avoid the children being placed in an impossible position by the conflict between them."

    27. Neither parent wished to put questions to the Cafcass Officer so I have to to do the best I can with what is said in this report. Taking point d. first this clearly supports the father's submission that the way in which this present disagreement has been handled by the parents has caused emotional harm to C. Point b. is clearly a sensible suggestion which I would endorse in principle. The father welcomed this suggestion in the course of his submissions. The mother did not express any view either way.

    28. There is a clear and obvious conflict between points a. and c. C's wishes and feelings which she has made clear to both parents over a period of about ten months and repeated to the Cafcass officer, are that she be permitted to start upon a course of instruction leading to her baptism as soon as possible and that decision should not be put off until some time in the future when she may or may not have reached a sufficient degree of maturity. She has given reasons for her decision which although not fully particularised in the report are not recorded as either immature or inadequate.

    The supporting evidence

    29. The mother filed with her first statement letters from both grandparents stating their objections to the father's proposed course of action. The letter from the paternal grandmother accuses the father of forcing the children to become Christians and wishing to remove their Jewish heritage from them. The letter from the maternal grandmother makes the same accusation and also accuses the father of secretly attempting to proselytise C without reference to the mother. Those accusations are strongly denied by the father.

    30. The mother has also filed a letter from Rabbi Odom Brandman, the Director of the Buckhurst Hill branch of the Chabad Lubavitch Community Centres which is a Jewish charitable organisation. This letter which is written in highly emotive terms starts out with the paragraph:

    "It was extremely disturbing to hear last night of the proposed baptism of the two young children named above [A and C] in clear contradiction to the wishes of their biological mother and all four grandparents - all of whom are proudly Jewish."

    The letter continues:

    "In Judaism we don't encourage conversion either way as it is unnatural for a person to change the religion they are born into and which thus is ingrained in their soul in a deep way. Although conversions are performed they must be worked at over a number of years when a real change can realistically take place. It is unfair to any child to put them under this pressure and to do something unnatural to their soul.

    What was even more disturbing in this case was the fact that the children have been enrolled in a baptism program without the knowledge or consent of their mother...

    .A formal change of religion must be agreed by both parents. To me this does not stand well for the integrity, trustworthiness or responsibility of the father."

    31. The father rejects these accusations and points out that the letter contains statements which are grossly factually inaccurate. He has exhibited to his statement a letter from the Reverend Paul Harcourt who is the Area Dean of Redbridge. The confirms the factual inaccuracy of the assertion by Rabbi Brandman that "the children have been enrolled in a baptism program without the knowledge or consent of their mother." The Area Dean expresses his astonishment that such an assertion should be made without any attempt by the Rabbi to discover the truth of this assertion. He also expresses his concern that the serious allegation that the father has forced his new found religion on the children has been made in inflammatory terms without any supporting evidence.

    Findings of fact

    32. It is essential first of all to establish exactly what baptism means firstly for C, then for her parents, and also for the Church community which she wishes to join. It cannot be disputed that within the Christian religion there are many different beliefs as to the significance of baptism, derived from differing interpretations of scripture which cannot be reconciled one with another.

    33. However it is clear from the evidence that the father belongs to the Anglican Church and I accept his evidence and understanding of mainstream Anglican belief, which is the view of his church, that baptism is a ceremony in which the child is welcomed into the community of the church and starts his or her journey in faith. Through a process of instruction and the test of time that journey may, but does not inevitably, lead to a moment when the child, usually not before the child reaches the age of 16, has attained sufficient maturity and understanding of the Christian faith and chooses to become a full communicant member of the church by the ceremony of confirmation.

    .

    34. I am also satisfied on the evidence that C understands that in order to be baptised she must declare her belief in God, which she has done to both her father and her mother, and having made that declaration she can then be welcomed into the fellowship of her church through the ceremony of baptism.

    35. I accept the evidence of the mother that in her eyes the baptism of a child has much greater significance in that it can be seen as demonstrating a rejection of her Jewish faith. I do not for a moment doubt the sincerity of the mother's belief which is clearly shared by the grandparents, but it is very clear to me that neither the mother nor the grandparents have made any real effort to see this from the point of view of what is best for the child or to engage in any investigation of what this step actually signifies as a matter of Jewish law or from the viewpoint of the Anglican church which C wishes to join.

    36. I do not profess any great expertise in the doctrines of the Jewish faith beyond a knowledge that, as with Christianity, there are very wide divergences in doctrine ranging from the ultra Orthodox practises of Hassidic Jews to the very different practises of those who belong to the Movement for Reform Judaism or Liberal Judaism. I therefore took some time to explore with the mother whether it was her understanding that C's baptism as a Christian would lead to any irrevocable consequences for C if she subsequently changed her mind and wished to revert to her Jewish faith. She was unable to tell me of any such consequences. Had the mother wished to provide evidence of any such consequences it was of course open to her to put forward expert evidence on this issue.

    37. Although the letter from Rabbi Brandman suggests a number of adverse consequences I am certainly unable to accept that I can place any reliance upon that letter as expert evidence. It contains no declaration of truth, no confirmation of the Rabbi's qualifications to put forward expert opinion on matters of Jewish law and no expert witness declaration all of which are required by the Family Procedure Rules.

    38. It may be some comfort both to the mother and to the grandparents if I set out my understanding of Jewish law on this topic although I stress that since I have received no expert evidence on this issue what follows has played no part in my decision making process. My understanding of Jewish law is that a person who is born a Jew cannot deprive himself of his Jewish status. Christian baptism does not have any effect on that status. The purported act of conversion to Christianity simply has no legal effect and C would therefore be free to resume her Jewish faith at any time if she wished to do so.

    39. I accept the mother's case that the father is a very strong personality and that to a significant extent she was under his influence during the marriage in terms of the children not being instructed in the Jewish faith or practising Jewish customs. However the shared care arrangements have been in place for the last eighteen months and during this time the only change which she has introduced into what was previously a non-religious household is a very modest one, the ceremony of lighting of a candle on Friday evening.

    40. While the mother has the care of C she receives no instruction in the Jewish faith, she does not attend the synagogue on any regular basis and only experiences minimal exposure to Jewish religious practises in the home. I fully accept that by virtue of being born of as Jewish mother C has acquired a Jewish heritage which she will never lose, but that is fundamentally different to her acquiring a Jewish faith. I do not accept the implied assertion in the letter from Rabbi Brandon that these are one and the same thing.

    41. In contrast since his conversion the father has encouraged C to attend church and to learn about God through instruction in the common Judaeo/Christian teaching of the Old Testament and also about Jesus as the Messiah through the teaching of the New Testament. I reject the assertion by the mother and grandparents that C has been brainwashed by her father.

    42. It would be foolish to deny that children can be influenced by their parents and that such influences can be good or bad. However I accept the evidence of the father that it was C who asked to accompany him to church, that it has been her wish to continue to attend regularly with him, that it is her wish to learn more about Christianity, and her wish to be baptised.

    43. The father has clearly been alive to the danger of being accused of brainwashing or manipulation of the children. He was careful to consult with the mother and to obtain her agreement to the children going to church with him and attending the New Wine Festival. When C told him she wished to be baptised he was equally careful to inform the mother what had happened and then to wait for a period of months before he was forced to react to the event of C making her own approach to the Sunday school leader.

    44. I do not accept that the text message from the father which the mother has exhibited to her statement shows that it is the father who is driving this application and that it is his idea that C should be baptised. Of course as a committed Christian he wishes to do all he can to support her wish in this regard. That is only natural, but I accept his evidence that faith is a free gift from God to his daughter and not something which he would ever try to force upon her. His cautious, patient and sensitive approach to dealing with C's request over the past nine months strongly supports his case on this point.

    45. As to the telephone conversation of 13th November 2011 I do not accept that the father told C to lie to her mother. I do accept that he told her not to discuss what had happened with her mother, not from any motive of concealment but because he quite properly wished any discussion which was now clearly necessary to be resumed, to take place between the parents.

    46. I do not accept the validity of the reasons put forward by the mother for making her without notice application. It was wholly wrong for her not to have checked either with the father or with his Minister to discover the truth before applying to the court. There simply was no immediate danger. This has had serious consequences. She obtained her order on an assertion of fact that both children has secretly been enrolled in baptism classes without her knowledge or consent which was simply untrue.

    47. I also find it difficult to understand that if C is as immature as the mother claims, why the mother should choose to accept what C said to her as if the child were an adult and take precipitate action on that basis.

    48. Equally serious is the consequence that by choosing the route of confrontation rather then negotiation she has presented C with a picture of her parents at war which is deeply distressing to the child and has caused her emotional distress which could and should have been avoided. The only point on which I acquit the mother of the charge of bad faith is on the timing of the application. I do not accept that it was motivated by spite at his imminent remarriage. The two events simply happened to coincide. Otherwise the criticisms made by the father of the mother on this issue are wholly justified.

    49. .Finally taking into account the fact of the mother's agreement to the children regularly attending church with the father, her agreement that they should attend the New Wine festival and her own lack of interest in introducing the children to her own faith over the past eighteen months my conclusion is that there is more than grain of truth in the father's assertion that the mother's opposition to C's wish to be baptised is driven less by her own wishes and beliefs than by pressure from the grandparents.

    The law

    50. As Mr Cassidy for the mother properly conceded there are no binding precedents on this particular issue. This is a section 8 application which falls to be decided simply on the application of the welfare principle set out in section 1(1) of the Children Act, the delay principle set out in section 1(2) and in accordance with the statutory check list set out in section 1(3).

    51. I start with the relevant parts of the check list.

    (a) the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child in the light of her age and understanding.

    C has clearly and consistently made her wishes and feelings known. She has given reasons for her decision to the Cafcass officer who spoke to her. She gave a reason to her mother as set out at paragraph 21 above which however much the mother feels is inadequate or immature, I consider to be entirely age appropriate. Both parents accept that she is a very bright and intelligent child a year ahead of her biological age in terms of academic achievement. I am at one with the Cafcass officer in concluding that she has genuinely expressed her own wishes and feelings and that they are entitled to proper respect.

    52. (b) her physical emotional and educational needs.

    No point arises on her physical and educational needs which are clearly being properly met by here parents. In terms of her emotional needs clearly her upbringing for the first eight years of her life lacked any significant religious teaching upon which her own moral compass could be based. Her exposure to Christian teaching and her positive reaction to that clearly indicates that she has an emotional need which is being met by this experience.

    53. (c) the likely effect on her of any change in circumstances.

    Clearly, given her background and heritage, taking the first step along the road to full commitment to the Christian faith is a significant change of circumstances for C. However there is nothing to suggest that she will be any less loved by her mother in consequence nor to their credit is their any suggestion by either grandparents that she will not continue to be welcomed by them as a much loved granddaughter. There is no suggestion that she will not be able to attend the synagogue or to lean more about the Jewish faith if she wishes. There are no irrevocable consequences which will flow from her baptism.

    54. (d) her age sex background etc

    There are no issues under this paragraph which do not arise under the other paragraphs

    55. (e) any harm which she has suffered or is at risk of suffering

    C has clearly suffered emotional harm from the conflict between her parents which flows from the mother's unwise decision to initiate that conflict by her without notice application which was undoubtedly premature. If this issue remains unresolved now without any certainty when it will be resolved, then there is serious risk that it will remain as a source of continued conflict between the parents which in turn will cause the child further emotional harm.

    56. (f) How capable are the parents of meeting her needs ?

    Based on the findings of fact I have made, it is clear that the father is more capable of meeting his daughter's needs in terms of her religious education at this time. He has shown much greater sensitivity to her emotional needs in his handling of a difficult situation.

    57. (g) the range of powers available to the court.

    I have made it clear to the parties that I have no power to order C to be baptised. That is as decision for the Minister of her church to take in the light of his evaluation of her understanding and commitment, so far as he judges those criteria to be relevant. My powers are limited to considering whether the father should be prohibited from taking any positive steps towards his daughter's baptism and in terms of any specific issues order directing that such steps may be taken without the consent of the mother.

    58. The issue of delay is an important factor in this case. Since C herself first raised the issue ten months has passed and just over five months since the issue came to a head in November 2011. That is a long time in a child's life. The court has received all the relevant information to make an informed decision but is now being asked by the Cafcass officer to delay that decision for a further two years with no guarantee then of a decision being appropriate to be made. The court is also being asked by the mother to delay making that decision for a further five and a half years when C will be sixteen.

    59. The only possible justification for that delay would be that the court is not satisfied that C has sufficient maturity and understanding to take such an important step in her life. I could see some justification for taking that course if the court could be sure that at age twelve and a half C will be sufficiently more mature to make a decision which her parents would have to respect. But that is not the mother's primary position. She in effect reserves her position to continue to argue that even at that age C will still be too immature to decide. If the court is against her now on waiting to age sixteen she reluctantly accepts the Cafcass recommendation.

    60. The advantage of any delay has in any event to be weighed against the risk of further emotional harm being suffered by C waiting for the decision to be made.

    61. I am satisfied that a decision must be made now for two reasons. The first is that in my judgment a decision to delay carries a significant risk of emotional harm to the child. The second is that upon consideration of all the evidence there is no proper purpose in any delay. I am satisfied that C has already reached a sufficient degree of maturity and understanding to make a properly informed decision. In this respect I disagree with the Cafcass recommendation so I must explain why.

    62. The first reason is that the author of the report does not herself make any recommendation. Since the report was specifically directed towards ascertaining the wishes and feelings of the child I make no criticism of the author on that account. The suggestion for delay comes from her line Manager who has never herself met or spoken to the child. The second reason is that the report gives no reason why the decision should be delayed.

    63. The third reason is that the report writer gives no indication of any concern on her part about the lack of maturity of the child. On the contrary she notes, as confirmed by the parents, that C is a bright articulate child who was able clearly to express her views and give reasons for them. The final reason is that C has maintained a consistent wish to be baptised for over ten months in the face of opposition from her mother and has been able to give age appropriate reasons for her decision, a factor which the line Manager does not appear to have taken into account.

    Conclusion

    64. Taking all these factors into account I am satisfied that C's welfare interests are best served by allowing her to be enrolled in a baptism class and to present herself for baptism into the Christian church as soon as she is ready. If the mother feels unable to accept this judgment and consent to this course of action it may proceed without her consent.

    65. I would strongly encourage the mother to meet with the Minister to discuss this issue preferably with the father not only so that she can be better informed but also because it will be hugely important for C to see her parents working together on this.

    66. As I hope I have made clear in paragraph 33 of this judgement I regard the process of confirmation as being one of much greater significance to C. In the light of her Jewish heritage I would consider it appropriate that she should attain a much fuller degree of understanding and greater maturity before being confirmed and I therefore propose that she should not be confirmed before her sixteenth birthday without the consent of the mother. Both parties having seen a draft of this judgment are in agreement that this order should be made.

    67. The father is permitted to disclose this judgment in confidence to the Minister of his church. The mother is permitted to show a copy of this judgment again in confidence to either or both of the grandparents. C is not to be shown a copy of this judgment. The explanation to be given to her takes the form of a letter which I have written to C which is to be given to her preferably by both parents together or if not by the father alone. This is attached and may be shown to C immediately.

    Consequential orders

    68. Having received a draft of my judgement the parents very sensibly took the earliest opportunity to sit down together with C to read to her the letter which I had asked them to do. Her immediate reaction was to ask whether this meant that she would be allowed to attend church not only on the Sundays which she spends with her father but also on the Sundays which she spends with her mother. This was a point which neither parent had thought to raise before me and if further evidence were needed, provides a compelling illustration of her maturity.

    69. The father informed me of this new development and I therefore arranged for both parents to appear before me at a further hearing on 4th May 2012 in order to make submissions on this point. The father naturally is delighted to support his daughter's wishes in this respect. He also informed me that there will be a baptism preparation class at his church this summer which will require C to attend her church on a number of evenings when fall during the mother's week of residence. He is prepared to undertake all the collection and delivery arrangements.

    70. The mother opposed this proposal. Firstly she pointed out that she had now made enquiries and discovered that instruction classes for Jewish children are normally held on Sundays so C would not be able to attend these if she was at her father's church. However she accepted that C had not actually been enrolled on any such class and also that attending church on Sundays would not interfere with any attendance at the synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath. Secondly she objected to her quality time with C being cut down in favour of the father. Thirdly she pointed out that church attendance every Sunday would interfere with C's own social life, for example making it impossible for her to have friends to sleep over on Saturday night. Fourthly she submitted that the children have a regular routine into which they are now well settled and that a change in that routine would be detrimental to C's welfare.

    71. As to the first objection the father pointed out that if C wanted to attend the synagogue on one of "his" Saturdays he would respect her wishes in the same way as he expected the mother to respect the child's wishes over regular Sunday church attendance.

    72. There are two answers to the mother's second objection. The first is that while it is perfectly natural and understandable for any separated parent to wish to spend as much time with their children as possible, the fact of their separation makes this unattainable in practical terms. The second is that section 1(3) of the Children Act does not include the wishes and feelings of either parent in the statutory check list. Indeed the Supreme Court has gone so far as to say that in private law cases parents have no rights at all.

    73. What both these parents have is parental responsibility. However parental responsibility is not limited to providing a warm safe nest in which the fledglings can be nurtured. It also includes giving them wings with which to fly. Without this a child simply cannot become a fully developed and rounded adult. Because all children are different that process can start at differing ages and when it starts it is perfectly natural for any mother to feel some sense of loss, even of anguish but there is nothing unusual about this case. As the father correctly points out the fact that C wishes to attend the father's church every Sunday does not increase father's time at the expense of the mother. C is simply choosing to spend more time with her own friends and with her God.

    74. It is of course true that there will be a reduction in the mother's quality time with C but as the President of the Family Division has pointed out in the case of ETS v BT [2009] EWCA Civ 20

    "In twenty years time it will not matter a row of beans whether or not L spent x or y hours more with one parent rather than the other: what will matter is the relationship which L has with her parents, and her capacity to understand and engage in mutually satisfying adult relationships. If she is given a distorted view of adult relationships by her parents, her own view of them will be distorted, and her own relationships with others - particularly with members of the opposite sex - will be damaged."

    75. As the father pointed out this arrangement does not increase C's quality time with him. It simply increases the quality time she spends with God and with the friends she has made at church. .Furthermore as I pointed out to the mother in the course of argument these parties have two children. The fact that C is away at church gives the mother the opportunity for her to spend one to one quality time with her son A which would not otherwise be open to her.

    76. As to the mother's third objection every regular activity which a child chooses to undertake interferes to some extent with their social life, whether it is playing football, taking swimming lessons, or attending church. That involves making choices and sometimes making sacrifices but that is part of normal life. The mother seems to be approaching this issue from the wrong angle in effect assuming that any decision on this issue will lead to a rigid regime under which C will have to go to church every Sunday, come what may.

    77. Nothing could be further from the truth. Court orders which are set in concrete are almost inevitably doomed to failure. The best that the court can do is to provide parents with a sensible framework which sensible parents can and will adjust to meet the needs of the individual child. So if the mother wishes to go away with both children on one of her weekends for some special treat or event she should be free to do so. If C is invited to a birthday sleepover by one of her friends and that event runs on until lunchtime on Sunday she will have to decide either to leave early or miss church on that day. She is old enough and mature enough to make those decisions for herself.

    78. The mother's final objection is that a change of routine will be detrimental to the children. I accept in principle that children thrive better if they have a settled routine in their lives but that ignores that fact that as children grow up changes in their routine are bound to happen. What suits a five year old or an eight year old may be wholly inappropriate for a ten or twelve year old. What causes distress and difficulty is not changes of routine but unnecessary changes. This change is the necessary consequence of C's decision to become a Christian. I have no doubt that she will adjust to it without difficulty.

    79. For these reasons I do not accept the validity of the mother's arguments. I have decided that C's wishes to be baptised as a Christian must be respected and in my judgment the decision that she be allowed to attend church every Sunday is a natural consequence of that decision. There needs to be an order to that effect which will include C's attendance at her baptism course.

    68. Judgment will formally be pronounced on Friday 11th May 2012. Neither party is required to attend.

    Case No: RM11 P 02263

    IN THE ROMFORD COUNTY COURT

    Date: 11th May 2012

    Between:

    V J D

    Applicant

    -and -

    N A H

    Respondent

    In the Matter of C A H a child

    Before His Honour Judge Platt sitting at Romford

    Upon hearing Counsel for the Applicant and the Respondent in person

    IT IS ORDERED THAT

    1. The Applicant's application for a prohibited steps order in relation to the proposed baptism of the child C A H is dismissed.

    2. The Respondent is forbidden to arrange for the confirmation of the said child without the written consent of the Applicant before she attains the age of sixteen.

    3. The Respondent is permitted to make arrangements for the said child to attend baptism classes in the Christian faith and to present the child for baptism as soon as practicable subject to the decision of the appropriate Minister that she is ready to be baptised. If the Applicant does not consent to this the child may be instructed and presented for baptism without her consent.

    4. Both parties are directed to attend a parenting information programme to be arranged by Cafcass

    5. The Applicant must make the child C A H available to attend church each Sunday upon which the child is living with her and for any attendance at "Behold the Man" preparation for baptism classes which fall during the time the child is living with her

    6. The Respondent is to notify the Applicant of the dates and times of any such classes as soon as such information is available to him.

    7. The Respondent is to be responsible for collecting the child from and returning the child to the Applicant's home for the purposes set out in paragraphs 5 and 6 of this order. .

    11th May 2012.

    HIS HONOUR JUDGE JOHN PLATT

    20th April 2012

    Dear C,

    It must seem rather strange for me to write to you when we have never met but I have heard a lot about you from your parents and it has been my job to make an important decision about your future.

    Sometimes parents simply cannot agree on what is best for their child but they can't both be right. Your father thinks it is right for you to be baptised as a Christian now. Your mother wants you to wait until you are older so they have asked me to decide for them. That is my job.

    I have listened to everything your mother and father have wanted to say to me about this and also to what you wanted to tell me. You have done that by speaking to the Cafcass lady and she has passed on to me what you said to her. That has made my job much easier and I want to thank you for telling me so clearly why you want to be baptised now. It is important for me to know how you feel.

    My job is to decide simply what is best for you and I have decided that the best thing for you is that you are allowed to start your baptism classes as soon as they can be arranged and that you are baptised as a Christian as soon as your Minister feels you are ready.

    Being baptised does not mean that you give up your Jewish heritage. That will always be part of you and I hope that you will continue to learn more about that heritage and about you mother's faith. Even after you are baptised you are still free to change your mind about your faith later when you are older. Finally, and this is the most important thing, both your mother and father will carry on loving you just as much whatever happens about your baptism.

    I understand that the past few months have been a difficult time for you but that is over now and the decision is made. I send you my very best wishes for the future.

    Yours sincerely,

    Judge John Platt

Judgment, published: 31/07/2012

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Published: 31/07/2012

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