Family Law Hub

Fact Finding

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  • 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
  • The parties had married in 2011 but separated a year later, when the mother was pregnant with their child. The father appealed against findings of fact that he had (i) raped the mother twice whilst she was in bed with their young child, (ii) emotionally abused the mother, and (iii) threatened to abduct the child. The appeal focused on what was said to be the failure by the judge to consider the allegations in their totality. Criticism was made of her decision not to consider and weigh the evidence in respect of, or to balance in her decision-making, the evidence relating to a number of core allegations made by the respondent. Complaint was made that she had compartmentalised the evidence and that she had failed to consider properly the appellant's case that the allegations against him had been fabricated. Roberts J reached the conclusion that the judge's findings could not stand, not necessarily because she was wrong, but because of the manner in which she appeared to have reached those conclusions. The reasoning was insufficient to explain how the judge had conducted her assessment of credibility and which matters she had, or had not, weighed in the balance when reaching her conclusions. In a case where one party was alleging that allegations had been fabricated as part of a course of conduct designed to marginalise a parent from the life of a child of the family, it was incumbent on the fact-finder to explain carefully why that case was rejected. That had not happened in this case. The appellant had been left with the impression that his case had not received the careful consideration which it deserved. The appeal was allowed, the findings set aside, and the matter would be remitted for an early rehearing. Judgment, 05/04/2021, free

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