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Harassment & Domestic Violence

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  • The two sisters were aged 7 and 2. Their father had parental responsibility for them both, being named on their birth certificates, but was currently serving a term of life imprisonment for the attempted murder of their mother. The mother applied for termination of his parental responsibility, and to change their surname. HHJ Vincent noted that orders depriving a father of his parental responsibility and replacing his surname for another should only be made by a court where there was a solid and secure evidential and factual basis for doing so, and where the orders were in the best interests of the children concerned. In this case, there was a risk of harm to the girls if he were to exercise his parental responsibility for them, and he continued to be assessed as a high risk to the mother and the children. To permit the mother to change their names would be consistent with their welfare and enable her to act protectively. Thus the mother succeeded on both her applications. The father would be discharged of his parental responsibility for both girls and the mother would be permitted to change their names. Judgment, 26/05/2021, free
  • The father applied for the child's summary return to Australia. The mother, who was deaf and had a cochlear implant due for replacement, relied on a defence under Article 13(b) of the 1980 Hague Convention. Submissions on her behalf focused on the father's criminal convictions, for which he had been placed on the sex offenders register. Hayden J noted that it was an established precept of child safeguarding that where, as here, a convicted offender failed to acknowledge guilt and/or sought to minimise his behaviour, such actions were to be generally regarded as indicative of continuing risk. The mother made allegations of coercive and controlling behaviour against him, but appeared to have a very poor grasp of the risk that he could present to her children. Hayden J was comfortably satisfied that the evidence established a grave risk of serious harm to a child. In Australia, her isolation, vulnerability, challenges with communication and incomplete understanding of the risk the father represented would all leave her exposed to the manipulative and abusive behaviour of which he was accused. The defence provided by Article 13(b) was established and the application was dismissed. Judgment, 26/05/2021, 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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  • Roshi Amiraftabi of 29 Bedford Row, reviews the key private children law cases, themes and practice developments from the past 12 months. Webcast, 31/05/2018, members only
  • In this webcast, which was first presented on 16 July 2015, Anton Eriera from 29 Bedford Row talks about domestic violence cases and the most recent developments in this area of law. Webcast, 31/07/2015, members only

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