Family Law Hub

Fact Finding

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  • A fact-finding hearing within proceedings brought under the inherent jurisdiction for the return of two children, aged 8 and 6, to an unnamed country to which the 1980 Hague Convention did not apply. The court had previously refused an application for a summary return of the children to that country, and had set the case down for this fact-finding hearing. Whilst in that country, the mother had come to believe that the father was sexually abusing the younger child. Following the authorities' refusal to prosecute, and an application to end contact being refused, the mother had removed the children from that country to the United Kingdom without the father's permission. Judd J noted that a comparison between the mother's account of what the children had said in her recordings of them with the recordings themselves revealed that, for the most part, the children did not say the words the mother attributed to them, and where they did so, it was after persistent and suggestive questioning from the mother. In Judd J's view, the way in which the questioning was conducted created precisely the conditions whereby false allegations emerge. The mother's perception of what the children were saying in the recordings was so distorted that it made it very difficult to place any reliance on her evidence as to what the children said outside of them. The medical evidence was inconclusive. In all the circumstances, Judd J came to the clear conclusion on the balance of probabilities that the father had not sexually abused the child, but also, among other findings, that the mother's belief as to the sexual abuse had been genuine, albeit misguided. Both parties were encouraged to reflect upon what had happened, and to give careful consideration to what should happen to the children in the future. Judgment, 31/07/2021, free
  • This was an appeal, in the course of child arrangements proceedings, against a case management decision to exclude evidence from a fact-finding hearing where there were allegations of domestic abuse. The father's representative had raised the point that the mother's statement included allegations going beyond the five permitted in the Scott Schedule, as did other statements. The recorder noted that to permit only evidence which related to an allegation in the Scott Schedule was "a little on the narrow side", as an allegation might need to be put into context, but that it was also important to ensure that the hearing did not become unnecessarily lengthy. He had then concluded that significant sections of the mother's statement should be excluded, including her claim that that the father's violent and abusive behaviour towards the children had worsened. The mother appealed on four grounds: the recorder had been wrong to exclude the matters in the mother's sworn statement on the basis that they were irrelevant and inadmissible; wrong to exclude the professional evidence which was relevant to the child's allegations and the impact of the alleged abuse; wrong to exclude similar fact evidence, e.g. regarding the father's behaviour at work; and the recorder's conduct of the hearing had resulted in procedural fairness (a ground which was not pressed at this hearing). Judd J expressed sympathy for the recorder, who had not been responsible for any of the case management orders requiring the parties to limit their allegations to five. Nonetheless, his decision could not stand. The allegations beyond those in the Scott Schedule were neither inadmissible nor irrelevant; they were highly significant. The mother's appeal was allowed. The parents were directed to file narrative statements to be considered at the pre-trial review, alongside the mother's application to adduce evidence from doctors, her mother and the nanny. Judgment, 13/07/2021, free
  • The Family Court had found it impossible to say whether the mother or her then boyfriend had been responsible for very serious injuries to a one-year-old child, but in the criminal proceedings the boyfriend had been convicted of causing them, and the mother acquitted of those charges. The Court of Appeal now considered her appeal from the refusal of an application to reopen the Family Court's findings of fact. Peter Jackson LJ noted that for an appeal of this nature to succeed an appellant must show that the judge made a material error of law or reached a conclusion that was not reasonably available. The applicant had not succeeded in that task. In this complex case, the judge had the marked advantage of having conducted a very substantial fact-finding hearing that left him with a distinctive view of the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence that he had read and heard. His judgment showed conspicuous care and command of the issues. The mother's case was essentially a rehearsal of the submissions made to the judge, with a complaint that he had not attached more or less weight to certain elements, and that approach did not really engage with the appeal test. Singh and Stuart-Smith LJJ agreed. The judge's decision was upheld and the appeal was dismissed. Judgment, 26/05/2021, free
  • A fact-finding exercise within an application for a child arrangements order with regard to the younger of two half-brothers. The only evidence had been from the parents. The mother had accused the father of grabbing her by the threat, punching her, and emotionally abusive and controlling behaviour. In HHJ Robin Tolson QC's view, "the individual allegations of domestic violence in the Schedule advanced by the mother against the father were insignificant in themselves", and unlikely to affect child arrangements. It was also, he said, "necessary to factor in the effects of a system which encourages allegations of domestic abuse", as well as the mother's mental health issues. On the morning of the trial, the mother had added an allegation of rape. HHJ Robin Tolson QC found that everything turned on the credibility of the witnesses, and none of the allegations were proven beyond limited admissions made by the father. Those admissions did mean, however, that the mother was "a victim of domestic abuse". He decided that a guardian should be appointed for the child, and a direction was made for the relevant local authority to undertake an investigation of both children to determine whether public law proceedings should be issued. By consent, he directed a psychiatric assessment of the mother. He also made an order for the child to spend time with his father, supervised by an independent social worker, once the international quarantine rules permitted it. Judgment, 12/04/2021, free
  • The issue to determine was how much the four-year-old daughter should see of her father. The mother had alleged domestic abuse and rape. HHJ Tolson QC said it might be thought that the allegations "could have been safely consigned to the past", given that "at the time of the first allegation the mother was not even pregnant with [the daughter]" but in "the era in which we now operate … such allegations are invariably taken very seriously". He invited "both parents and everyone involved in the case to recall that all we are about is establishing, if possible, a good relationship between a little girl and her father" and the allegations of rape, which he described as "limited non-consensual sex", "would have, in my judgment, almost no implications at this stage for the future development of the relationship between the father and [the daughter]". He found that the mother's allegations of the first incident were "deeply unconvincing stuff", which meant that in his view he was "faced with a dishonest witness and it is a very long step indeed to my accepting the accuracy of her version of events" as to the second alleged incident. He reached the conclusion that the events did not happen, while the alleged "financial abuse and emotional abuse and harassment, have not been investigated during this trial" and had "no implications for the future child arrangements in the context of this case". His conclusion was that "there are no relevant findings which amount to any risk to the child or indeed any risk to the mother herself", and so the way was now clear "to develop the father's relationship with [the daughter] into one where there is a normal relationship between a separated father and his daughter". He provided for a further hearing, should agreement between the parties prove impossible. A later note stated that the parties had reached agreement and an order by consent had been made. Judgment, 06/04/2021, free

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