Private Family Law: Children Summary of Recent Case Law October to December 2019

A County Council v Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) [2019] EWHC 2369 (Fam)

Re S [2020] EWHC 217 (Fam)
Care proceedings which had originated from a private law dispute between the mother and the fathers of her children. The mother alleged that the fathers had abused their children during contact. The mother emotionally harmed the children in the way that she had behaved in pursuing her beliefs about the fathers. This included making 10 video-recordings of one of the children to evidence her mistaken belief that sex abuse had occurred.

Threshold was agreed but not the way that it was expressed in the threshold findings.

The judge required there to be unambiguous findings recorded that the father had not physically or sexually abused his daughter and identifying the mother’s behaviour and the consequences [para 55-56]. It was essential for the clarity to prevent debate by assessors and local authority personnel and those working with the family [paras 57 and 59]

She also comments on whether the behaviour described can be properly described as “parental alienation” when the child attends and engages in contact when possible [para 65]

It was her perception “that local authorities may be ill-equipped to grapple with complex private law proceedings where there are allegations of abuse made by one parent against the other.”

At [paras 64-69 and 71] she suggested
a) repeated section 47 investigations, which are not anchored to a comprehensive family assessment, are ultimately of little benefit;

b) greater respect needs to be given to the views of professionals who see the family more often than most social workers ever do;

c) in the interests of effective multi-disciplinary working, social workers may, on occasion, have good reason to challenge the views of other professionals. Ensuring other professionals understand the local authority’s concerns and are updated as to recent events may assist that process;

d) families should be referred to sources of guidance and support or offered it as part of the local authority’s intervention. This should happen sooner rather than later. The mother might well have benefitted from guidance about separated parenting and child development. Both parents would also have benefitted from advice and guidance in managing contact handovers and in communicating with each other about their child;

e) mediation services …might have helped this family at an early stage of the proceedings;

f) delay in commissioning expert assessments is damaging.

g) such cases require a high degree of professional skill from social workers and their managers and, in my view, should not be allocated to trainee or inexperienced social workers…

Date: 06/02/2020


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Mrs Justice Knowles:

e H v F [2020] EWHC 86 (Fam)
This anonymised judgment was delivered in open court and will be published. The judge has given permission 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 children and members of their 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: [2020] EWHC 86 (Fam)
Case No: 2019/0141


Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 22/01/2020


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JH Appellant
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MF Respondent
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Ms Katherine Gittins (instructed by Adams Harrison Solicitors) for the Appellant JH
The Respondent MF did not attend and was not represented

Hearing date: 5th December 2019
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Approved Judgment
I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.

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 children and members of their 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.

The Honourable Ms Justice Russell DBE:

1. This is an appeal from an order made on 8th August 2019 following a fact-finding trial in Children Act (CA) 1989 proceedings for child arrangement orders at the Central Family Court in London before the Designated Family Judge. The case concerned complaints of domestic abuse including of the most serious sexual assault. The Appellant (JH who had made the complaints) was represented by counsel, Ms Piskolti, and gave evidence. The Respondent (MF) was unrepresented (but had assistance from a McKenzie friend throughout) and the judge carried out the “cross-examination” of JH. This case is yet another example of the difficulties encountered by litigants when public funding is not available to the party against whom complaints are made; and of the way in which justice or a fair trial is compromised when the judge is required to enter the arena. The judge found against the Appellant.

2. The Appellant appealed against the judgment and order; permission was granted by Mrs Justice Lieven on 25th October 2019 (who gave permission to appeal four days out of time). In her written reasons Lieven J said that she had granted “permission to appeal on each of the grounds”, having set out each of the seven grounds advanced on behalf of the Appellant. In essence I agree with the observations made by Lieven J in granting permission to appeal but also find that the judge’s conduct of the hearing was fundamentally flawed and unjust for procedural irregularity as set out in Family Procedure Rules (FPR) 2010 (Cf. FPR rule 30.12(3)); and the appeal is allowed for that reason and the reasons set out in full below.

3. The Appellant was represented by counsel, Ms Gittins, before me at the hearing in the Royal Courts of Justice on 5th December 2019, trial counsel (Ms Piskolti) had prepared the written application for permission to appeal and the grounds of appeal referred to in this judgment. The Respondent did not attend the hearing. The Appellant’s solicitor was contacted by a supporter of the Respondent on 6th November 2019 who said that the Respondent would not attend the hearing on 4th December 2019 because the appeal was not directed against the Respondent but against the judge. The Respondent himself phoned the Appellant’s solicitor on 2nd December 2019 to repeat this message and was aware of the change to the hearing date. The court received no written or oral submissions on behalf of the Respondent.

4. The law. There is no argument in respect of the law which applies in this appeal. I have been reminded of, and keep in mind, the relevant case law; it is unnecessary for me to set it out in full. The approach of the court is succinctly and accurately set out by Lieven J when allowing the application and I would adopt it. In particular, I keep in mind the words of Sir James Munby P in Re F (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 546, at paragraph 22,
“Like any judgment, the judgment of the Deputy Judge has to be read as a whole and having regard to its context and structure. The task facing a judge is not to pass an examination, or to prepare a detailed legal or factual analysis of all the evidence and submissions he has heard. Essentially, the judicial task is twofold: to enable the parties to understand why they have won or lost; and to provide sufficient detail and analysis to enable an appellate court to decide whether or not the judgment is sustainable. The judge need not slavishly restate either the facts, the arguments or the law. To adopt the striking metaphor of Mostyn J in SP v EB and KP [2014] EWHC 3964 (Fam), [2016] 1 FLR 228 para 29, there is no need for the judge to “incant mechanically” passages from the authorities, the evidence or the submissions, as if he were “a pilot going through the pre-flight checklist”.
Nonetheless some of the analysis, commentary and the judgment in the instant case requires particular scrutiny.

5. To paraphrase the seminal speech of Lord Hoffmann in Piglowska v Piglowski [1999] 1 WLR 1360, I am well aware that “The exigencies of daily court room life are such that reasons for judgment will always be capable of having been better expressed. This is particularly true of an unreserved judgment such as the judge gave in this case.” And that “An appellate court should resist the temptation to subvert the principle that they should not substitute their own discretion for that of the judge by a narrow textual analysis which enables them to claim that he misdirected himself.”

Background and history
6. The chronological background and of the case as set out here were taken from the chronology prepared for the court by those representing the Appellant which set out the complaints made about the Respondent and involvement of the Police. The Appellant (then only 17 years old) met the Respondent (then 23) in 2013 when they started their relationship. The Appellant moved in with the Respondent shortly after they met. Prior to their meeting police records indicate that there had been complaints made about the Respondent’s violent and abusive behaviour by his own mother, his brother, his aunt and a previous partner. According to the police records which were before the Family Court the parties first came to the attention of the Police in June 2014 as a result of third-party contact or referral; the Respondent was said to have been intoxicated, aggressive and abusive to the Appellant. The police records show a further incident including another verbal altercation in September 2014. The child who is the subject of these proceedings (C now 4 years and 11 months old) was born on 2nd January 2015.

7. There were police records concerning continuing domestic abuse in 2015. Specifically, there were complaints of domestic abuse by the Appellant in February of that year, followed in April by a record of an incident when the Respondent was said to have hit the Appellant on her head. She had fled to a neighbour’s home and the police were called. The Respondent was arrested for battery and released on bail. In May 2015 the Appellant contacted the police and retracted her statement. Nonetheless the Police made a referral to Social Services because of domestic abuse. Social Services were recorded to have responded that C would be placed on a Child in Need plan. The Appellant subsequently moved to another local authority area and the case was closed.

8. In May 2016 police recorded a phone call from the Appellant following another incident of domestic abuse; the Appellant was reported to have again fled the family home but without C (then an infant) who was locked inside with the Respondent. In late August 2016 the Appellant had reported to the Police a history of domestic abuse including sexual assault by penetration and was categorised as a high-risk victim. The Respondent was again arrested and released on bail. The Appellant left the family home and moved into a refuge with C. The Respondent then reported the Appellant to Social Services and made allegations about her inability to care for C; he called the Police to report her “missing”.

9. Meanwhile the Police had carried out a check on the Respondent following a third-party call raising concerns about him and alleged suicide threats. A day later a neighbour of the parties called the Police to complain of harassment and threats by the Respondent and his mother.

10. The Appellant was ABE interviewed by the Police at the end of August 2016. A third-party witness (AP) provided a statement to the Police setting out what she knew of the Appellant’s complaints about the Respondent’s abusive behaviour towards her. The Respondent was again arrested, this time for Controlling and Coercive Domestic Abuse contrary to s76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 and interviewed under caution about that offence and the sexual assault by penetration, a serious offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The CPS decided not to take further action over the sexual assault on 27th September 2017 the reasons for this decision are unknown.

11. When the Respondent applied for a child arrangements order on 15th October 2018, it was more than two years after the Appellant and C had left him and gone to a refuge away from what had been the family home. His bail conditions had been removed in September 2017, more than a year before he made his application under the CA 1989. The history set out above comes from such police records/disclosure as had been made available to the Family Court; it appears there may be additional material that has not yet been disclosed by the police. The Police also disclosed that the Respondent is “known to the police” and had a warning for assaulting a constable in 2008; convictions for theft, common assault also in 2008; criminal damage and resisting arrest in 2009; a conviction for battery and criminal damage involving a former partner in 2011; and a further caution for theft in 2014. There were numerous police “call outs” recorded in respect of the domestic abuse by the Respondent of his two previous partners.

12. The required safeguarding enquiries took place prior to the trial in August 2019 but the author had been unable to complete the checks because of the Appellant’s distress (as set out in the second safeguarding letter filed with the court). The Appellant was reported by her support worker as experiencing “feelings of severe trauma” and that the proceedings had led to a deterioration in her emotional well-being. No concerns were raised about her ability to care for C. I quote,
“I was told that [the Appellant] continues to experience feelings of severe trauma, and that these proceedings have lead [sic]to a deterioration in her emotional well-being. She has been progressing well and continues to do so in the main but is highly anxious. There are no concerns about her parenting of [C] and Children services in the area that she lives have not been involved with him. He is developing appropriately and is in good health.”

13. It was and remained the Appellant’s case that the Respondent was aggressive, intimidating and that he was also controlling and emotionally abusive during the relationship. It is her case that she had been subjected to domestic abuse which included verbal abuse and that he had physically and sexually assaulted her while the child was present in their home.

14. After police intervention the parties resumed their relationship and it is the Appellant’s case that the domestic abuse resumed. The Respondent’s abusive behaviour towards the Appellant continued and this had culminated in two occasions where the Respondent had sexual intercourse with the Appellant without her consent on or around 18th May 2016 and mid July 2016. The Appellant had then fled taking C with her and later reported the assaults and abuse to the Police. The Respondent called the police to report the Appellant (but, it is noteworthy, not the child) as missing. On the 28th August 2019 a neighbour had reported the Respondent to the police to complain about the Respondent harassing her and making threats via third parties, and because the neighbour was concerned that the Respondent was trying find out Appellant’s location.

Hearing on 8th August 2019

15. The trial took place on 8th August 2019. The Appellant, as can be seen from the letter alluded to above, is a vulnerable witness as set out and defined by FPR 2010 r3A.7 (a) (i); (d); (e); (j) and (f) and had applied for screens to be made available in the court room (r3A.8 (a)) as a measure to be put in place to assist her in giving her best evidence: to enable her to do so is the court’s duty under r3A.5. The judge took the inexplicable step, contrary to the expressed view and request of the Appellant, and contrary to the rules of procedure, of ordering that the Appellant give evidence from counsel’s row as “better” than using the witness box and screens. In doing this he had not only decided not to follow Part 3A of the FPR 2010, but he also completely failed to give any or adequate reasons for doing so as required by r3A.9 of the FPR 2010. These are serious procedural irregularities which would allow for an appeal to be granted under FPR 2010 r30.12 (3) (b).

16. The Appellant’s skeleton argument (as prepared by trial counsel) refers to the unsurprising difficulties that the trial judge then encountered in being able to hear the Appellant’s evidence. It is a matter of further complaint that as a result he actually did not hear significant parts of what the Appellant had said in court; a matter the judge himself accepted in paragraph 15 of his judgment. The judge then proceeded to order that the Respondent, too, should give evidence from counsel’s row making reference to the “feng shui” of the court room and the screens and saying that it was fair and “created some kind of balance” without any application having been made by the Respondent that he needed to give evidence in the same manner as the Appellant. Concerns raised by counsel were dismissed without reasons being given for this decision by the judge. The Respondent was then able to give evidence sitting next to his McKenzie friend who was, as a consequence, able to assist the Respondent in the answers he gave when the Respondent was being cross-examined. It follows that the Respondent was given an advantage and assistance denied to the Appellant. As was submitted by trial counsel in her skeleton argument and I accept “… it is plain and requires no citation that when a witness is giving evidence, they are ‘under oath’ and are to receive no prompting, assistance or advice during the midst of it.”

17. The 7th ground of appeal, as submitted by counsel, was that the decision was unjust for due to serious procedural irregularity; I would have allowed the appeal on this ground alone, but along with his conduct of this case any broad analysis of his judgment, and approach to the fact-finding is so flawed as to lead to the conclusion that it is unsafe and wrong. Counsel submits that the judge failed to apply the provisions on PD12J of the FPR 2010 and drew this Court’s attentions to the following definitions;
o “domestic abuse” includes any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

o “coercive behaviour” means an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim

o “controlling behaviour” means an act or pattern of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour:”

18. It forms part of the Appellant’s case that the judge failed to apply these definitions, or at the very least, keep them in mind. That submission is accepted. Moreover, the definition of domestic abuse presently used by the Government (which includes so-called ‘honour’ based abuse, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage) reads
“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or emotional.”

19. “[3] Controlling behaviour is a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capabilities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and/or regulating their everyday behaviour.” And “[4] Coercive behaviour is an act or pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation (whether public or private) and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten the victim. Abuse may take place through person to person contact, or through other methods, including but not limited to, telephone calls, text, email, social networking sites or use of GPS tracking devices.”

20. At paragraph 8 the guidance addresses factors affecting the seriousness of the behaviours:
“Domestic abuse offences are regarded as particularly serious within the criminal justice system. Domestic abuse is likely to become increasingly frequent and more serious the longer it continues and may result in death. Domestic abuse can inflict lasting trauma on victims and their extended families, especially children and young people who either witness the abuse or are aware of it having occurred. Domestic abuse is rarely a one-off incident and it is the cumulative and interlinked physical, psychological, sexual, emotional or financial abuse that has a particularly damaging effect on the victims and those around them. 9. Cases in which the victim has withdrawn from the prosecution do not indicate a lack of seriousness and no inference should be made regarding the lack of involvement of the victim in a case.”

21. This judge, as a leadership judge in the Family Court, must be fully cognisant of the relevant guidance and definitions and should have borne it in mind, even if he did not explicitly say so, but he failed to do so in any part of his judgment. Furthermore by dismissing or ignoring the reports from the police, and the complaints of others by considering and concentrating only on the oral evidence of the parties (paragraph 9 of his judgment) he failed to take into account relevant material which formed part of the overall picture of the parties relationship and might reasonably have been found to have indicated a concerning history of reported aggressive, criminal and violent behaviour on the part of the Respondent.

22. According to trial counsel’s notes the trial concluded at 16:30, and she, as for the Appellant, was unable to make the all the closing submissions she intended to in the time that was allowed to her which commencing at 16:45, not least as her oral submissions were repeatedly interrupted by the judge. The judge did not then call on the Respondent at all. The real risk of the appearance of a partisan approach in the judge’s conduct is self-evident. This was compounded when, after delivering his judgment at 17:55, the judge ordered a s7 report and invited the Cafcass Officer to consider Cafcass contact intervention, yet no evidence in respect of the need for this was given or considered during the trial, and the Appellant was denied any opportunity to address the court about the necessity for, or the imposition of such conditions. The judge then failed to give any reasons for so doing and further compounded his errors when, on 23rd August 2019, the judge directed Cafcass to investigate any child protection concerns in the Appellant’s care of C. Nothing in respect of this was raised at trial, there was no evidence (indeed the opposite was indicated in the safeguarding correspondence) before the court to support such a direction but the trial judge saw fit to impose such a direction, nonetheless.

The judgement
23. The judgment was flawed for a multiplicity of reasons which I shall set out below. In the grounds of appeal and skeleton counsel has set out the principal grounds which I summarise and shall endeavour to deal with each in turn; i) that the judge had erred in his task in balancing the evidence by placing insufficient, indeed it could be said any, weight on corroborative evidence or material before the court and placing undue weight on irrelevant matters. The judge had directed police disclosure which included the independent witness statement of a neighbour along with police records which supported the Appellant’s account. In his judgment not only did he find there was no independent evidence he failed to set out why he chose to disregard it, or if he had had regard to it he failed to set out why he found that it was not independent or in any sense corroborative other than to dismiss both a friend and the neighbour’s evidence out of hand because they were the Appellant’s “friends”.

24. It was submitted that ii) the judge failed properly and correctly to balance the evidence before the Court and gave insufficient reason for not finding allegations as set out 1to 6. Specifically, it is submitted, the judge’s conclusions in respect of controlling and coercive behaviour on the part of the Respondent are predicated on an assumption that the use of language cannot form a significant part of the basis of a controlling relationship. This is contrary to the provisions of PD12J (as set out above). In the next paragraph the judge goes on to dismiss violent behaviour (throwing objects) as part of controlling or coercive behaviour without explanation. I accept the submission on behalf of the Appellant that the judge failed to make any findings about the Respondent’s use of language neither finding proved or dismissing the specific complaints made by the Appellant, which, if taken together, could be found to be part of a pattern of controlling, abusive and coercive behaviour.

25. The grounds of appeal go on iii) to say that the judge was wrong in that he had placed undue weight on the demeanour of the parties in Court when assessing their evidence. Appellate case law is redolent with cautionary guidance and comment on the need to look beyond demeanour when reaching a conclusion about the veracity of any witness yet the judge baldly said at paragraph 13 that the Respondent had the “better of the argument” describing the Respondent’s demeanour as straightforward without more. In this he failed, as he was required to, to give reasons for preferring the evidence of one party over the other (Cf. Lord Justice McFarlane (as he then was) in V (A Child) (Inadequate Reasons for Findings of Fact) (2015) EWCA Civ 274). Certainly the fact that the judge preferred the Respondent’s case was patent throughout his judgment. His reasons, such as they were for dismissing the evidence of the Appellant were wrong; specifically, the judge made a finding regarding the Appellant’s psychological state of mind without any forensic expert evidence (the absence of which had been a matter he himself alluded to previously at paragraph 7 of his judgment) when he said, in an exchange during closing submissions with counsel, “she [the Appellant] gives a description of a woman who is of a highly anxious, it might be said, neurotic, disposition”. In saying thus the judge had apparently reached a conclusion regarding the Appellant’s state of mind without sufficient evidence to support it; moreover it was a conclusion which was contrary to the case of the Respondent. It is necessary to interject here that other than denials it was not possible to decern with any particularity the case put by the Respondent (who was the applicant in the case) because of the absence of reference to it in the judgment.

26. If the Appellant appeared to be, and was in actuality anxious, and the judge referred to her as anxious from the outset of the hearing, and again in his judgment (see paragraph 15) is unsurprising given the judge’s comprehensive failure to apply Part 3A. The failure of the judge to provide the Appellant with the means of giving her best evidence was evidenced by the fact that her oral evidence was not heard by the judge and was not picked up on tape. To go on, as this judge did, to use it as one of the reasons he questioned her evidence is aberrant. Moreover, in his judgment the judge wholly failed to consider or even to entertain any likelihood that her anxious presentation was as a result of previous abuse, including the probability that this had included abuse by the Respondent. Or, as was submitted by counsel for the Appellant that, that as a vulnerable witness, she was likely to have been distressed when she gave her evidence which, in turn, would have had an impact on her ability to recall matters that had taken place. During oral her evidence, in response to a question by counsel, the Appellant had said she was “stressed, nervous. I haven’t slept, eaten anything. It’s hard if he can be here”. It is of note that there are facilities for witnesses to give evidence by video link near or in the Central Family Court.

27. In ground iv) the Appellant submitted that the judge failed to take into consideration that the Respondent had previously, and repeatedly, been involved with the police in respect of incidents of domestic violence and harassment and/or the judge failed properly to assess the Police reports and intervention not just with this Appellant but also involving previous partners and female relatives. Having ordered disclosure from the Police the judge then made little use of it except in reference to “inconsistences” in the Appellant’s later evidence; although her complaints to the police about incidents of domestic abuse remained consistent. Of the inconsistencies in the Respondent’s evidence, as put to him in evidence, the judge was dismissive but, again, failed to give his reasons for dismissing them [Cf. Lord Justice Moylan in Re A (Children) [2019] EWCA Civ 74)].

28. There was one incident of domestic abuse, which the judge appeared to accept, when the Respondent had pinned the Appellant against the wall, at least, the contemporaneous police report was of a more extensive assault, yet no finding was made; the judge’s comment that this was “the only allegation of violence” serves to underline a failure to consider or appreciate the concepts and reality of domestic abuse, control and coercion as defined by PD12J and set out above, and the fact that such abuse is not confined to physical violence. The judge did not deal with the effect such an assault (being pinned against a wall) would be likely to have on the Appellant particularly if it had taken place within an abusive relationship. The judge’s conclusion at paragraph 20 that the Appellant’s description “goes no further, really, in my view, on analysis, than saying that the relationship had its difficulties…” was reached in the absence of a thorough analysis of domestic abuse as it pertained in this case. Moreover, the judge’s comments (at paragraph 19 of the judgment) that the cessation of complaints by the Appellant beyond the end of the relationship were in anyway reassuring or supportive of a decision that there was minimal domestic abuse are wholly misconstrued as the most obvious reason there were no further incidents or complaints was that Appellant had fled the family home with C and their location was not known to the Respondent, who had remained on conditional police bail himself for another year.

29. The finding by the judge that C was not harmed by the Respondent, given his approach to the case as a whole, and the Appellant’s case specifically, cannot be considered safe; particularly as the judge (at paragraph 29) found that the Respondent had used “more force than normal” when changing the child’s nappy. The phrase itself is indicative of possible abuse, in handling the child roughly which, even if not deliberate or malicious could have been inappropriate or even harmful and was supportive of the Appellant’s case.

30. At ground v) the Appellant submitted that the judge “had been wrong to made findings on matters which were not put to the Appellant”. This ground referred to two matters, the first being that the judge found (at paragraph 30) that the Appellant had been “guilty of aggressive behaviour herself, on occasions.” This had not been put to the Appellant during the trial and it is improper to make findings against a party when that party is not given an opportunity, when giving evidence, to answer them. In addition it did not appear to form any part of the Respondent’s case.

31. Secondly, after failing to deal with the text messages, sent by to the Appellant by the Respondent, during the hearing and on being addressed by counsel in respect of this failure on application for permission to appeal, the judge had concluded that graphic, sexually explicit and threatening texts such as “If you don’t shut up I will stick my cock up your ass” were consistent with “sexting” and were not “helpful”. It had not been the Respondent’s case that the texts were “sexting”, nor was this put to the Appellant during her evidence. Not only was the content of the texts likely to have been relevant in connection with any consideration of controlling and coercive behaviour, it may well have had relevance in connection with the complaints of sexual assault. Notwithstanding the relevance of the texts as evidence, it would seem that the judge wholly failed to understand that is the effect on the recipient that is pertinent when considering whether any message or communication is threatening and/or abusive.

32. Ground vi) was in respect of findings that the Appellant had not been subjected to sexual penetration without consent (raped) by the Respondent. It is submitted on behalf of the Appellant that the judge was wrong in allowing his “out-dated views on sexual assault and likely victim responses” to influence his findings and conclusions on the facts and law on this case. The phrase “out-dated” is a euphemistic one on full consideration of the judge’s approach to the Appellant’s consenting to sexual intercourse in a physical position and manner which she, even on the judge’s assessment, found repugnant and was “sexual intercourse which was not, at the time, towards the [Appellant’s] taste or inclination.” (Paragraph 22)

33. The relevant passages in his judgment which make most concerning reading are to be found in paragraphs 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28. I have not set them out in full detail nor should it be necessary to do so as it is clear that the judge’s approach towards the issue of consent is manifestly at odds with current jurisprudence, concomitant sexual behaviour, and what is currently acceptable socio-sexual conduct.

34. The judge, having started by accepting that the Appellant “had difficulties in taking physical enjoyment from sex…” because of events in her past and had often told the Respondent to stop during intercourse in the past then went on to accept that on the first of the two incidents of penetrative sexual assault the Appellant had been reluctant to have sex, that during intercourse she asked him to stop and he did not and carried on; this appears to have been accepted by the Respondent to some extent as he said both that he stopped and later that the Appellant had not asked him to stop. Paragraph 23 reads
“…the first occasion it is the mother’s own case that sexual intercourse began with her consent, and consent was only removed during intercourse when the mother told the father to stop — but he failed to do so. The difficulties do not end there because this is a mother who very often, and for all I know, always, found that she had difficulties in taking physical enjoyment from sex. She would, she tells me, often tell the father to stop during the times when intercourse between them was more frequent than it was in 2016. The difficulties arose, apparently, because of events in her past…”
The judge then went on to comment both that the Appellant had not physically resisted and that she was upset afterwards but dismissed her distress in this way; “If the [Appellant] was upset afterwards, which the [Respondent] recognises, this was nothing unusual because of the difficulties I have mentioned.”

35. At paragraph 24 of his judgment the judge dealt with the Appellant telling the Respondent to stop penetrating her in this way
“…the sex in question took place with the mother kneeling on the bed and the father standing behind her. During intercourse she told him to stop, but he did not, and carried on at least for “a couple of minutes”, which is a description given, I think, to the police. It is part of the mother’s case that she took no physical step to encourage the father to desist. The father’s contention is that the sex between them on this occasion, which he recognises because it was one of very few occasions when the parties had sex during the year in question, was entirely consensual from beginning to end, and he was not told to stop. If the mother was upset afterwards, which the father recognises, this was nothing unusual because of the difficulties which I have mentioned.”

36. Further in dealing with her consent the judge continued (at paragraph 25);
“My concern about this occasion centres on the idea that the mother did nothing physically to stop the father. In particular, given the position in which intercourse was occurring, because the mother was not in any sense pinned down on this occasion, but could easily, physically, have made life harder for the father. She did not do so. I do not find that the father was in any way on this occasion so physically forcing her as to cause her not to be able to take preventative measures, nor, in fact, is that case alleged. Following the event, as I have already said, the mother took no immediate action to report the matter to the police, or indeed to anyone else. Her description, of course, does not indicate that the circumstances were such that she might in any way have been thought wise to seek medical advice.”

37. This judgment is flawed. This is a senior judge, a Designated Family Judge, a leadership judge in the Family Court, expressing a view that, in his judgment, it is not only permissible but also acceptable for penetration to continue after the complainant has said no (by asking the perpetrator to stop) but also that a complainant must and should physically resist penetration, in order to establish a lack of consent. This would place the responsibility for establishing consent or lack thereof firmly and solely with the complainant or potential victim. Whilst the burden of proving her case was with the Appellant in any counter allegation the burden lay with the Respondent. Indeed it was the Respondent who had brought the case as the applicant in the Family Court, thus the burden of proof did not lie solely with the Appellant. Moreover the judge should have been fully aware that the issue of consent is one which has developed jurisprudentially, particularly within the criminal jurisdiction, over the past 15 years (of which more below).

38. The judge’s view in respect of consent is underscored by his comment at paragraph 25 (as quoted above) when he said, “My concern about this occasion centres on the idea that the [Appellant] did nothing physically to stop the [Respondent].” The judge then went on to say that because the Appellant was on all fours on the bed, at the Respondent’s insistence this would have, according to this judge, made it easier for her to resist and “made life harder for the [Respondent]…” and that the Respondent had not, the judge found (again the evidence on which he reached this conclusion is absent from the judgment), been “so physically forcing her as to cause her not to be able to take preventative measures [sic]..”. The judge then comments that the Appellant did not take immediate action to call the police or anyone else and that her description, in the view of this judge, did not “indicate that the circumstances were such that she might in any way have been thought wise to seek medical advice.” In keeping with his approach thus far the judge had apparently concluded that it is necessary for victims of sexual assault to report the assault or make a contemporaneous report. Yet it is now explicitly accepted that many victims will not do so, out of fear or embarrassment which are based on their cultural, social or religious background and the concomitant pressures, mores or beliefs.

39. The judge then considered the second incident when the Appellant says sexual intercourse took place without her consent at paragraph 26 of his judgment.
“The second occasion, occurring some two months later, began with the parties watching television whilst in bed. The father suggested the television should be turned off. As I understand it, it is common ground that it was, and then the father, again, requested sex of the mother. This time the mother’s case is that she refused, and when intercourse began it was not with her consent. She says that she was wearing pyjamas. The father took the pyjamas off and had intercourse with her, again from behind. This was at no point, the mother says, with her consent. The father maintains to the contrary — that intercourse was initiated by both of the parties and was entirely consensual throughout. Again, he recalls the occasion of which the mother speaks. Here, my difficulty with the mother’s account centres on the removal of her pyjama bottoms. I should emphasise that father’s account is that in fact she was wearing a nightie. I do not see why the mother could not, should not, have made life difficult for the father in the circumstances in which she found herself by preventing the removal of the pyjama bottoms. There is no evidence of any kind that a struggle pursued, nor again is a case advanced that the father was being physically coercive on this occasion. Insistent in his requests, yes, but physically coercive, no.”

40. The Respondent was once again penetrated by the Respondent from behind. The Respondent said she consented. The Appellant said she did not at any point consent to sexual intercourse taking place. At paragraph 26 (quoted above) the judge said, “…my difficulty with the [Appellant’s] account centres on the removal of her pyjama bottoms…I do not see why the [Appellant] could not, should not, have made life difficult for the [Respondent] in the circumstances by preventing the removal of the pyjama bottoms.” Again the judge’s conclusion on whether sex was consensual or not is wrongly predicated on the presumption that to establish non-consensual penetration the complainant should have physically resisted. Similarly, the judge said “There is no evidence of any kind that a struggle pursued, nor again is a case advanced that the father was being physically coercive (my emphasis) on this occasion” as can be seen below physical coercion or violence or the threat of violence is not considered a necessary element when considering consent or the lack of consent, thus the judge was wrong in his approach.

41. This time (as the judge noted in paragraph 27 of his judgment) the Appellant did report a serious sexual assault to the Police. Paragraph 27 reads
“The [Appellant] “was to report these events to the police at the end of August. But there may be some significance in the circumstances in which she did so because one of her friends, [P], in her written statement, appears to imply that the purpose of the visit to the police station at the end of August was to report father’s threats made to her [P}, and that it was almost incidental that the question of the mother being forced to have sex (the expression used in [P’s] police statement) came to be revealed. Moreover, the terms of [P’s] statement, again, can hardly be said to be heavily supportive of mother’s case as to the terms in which the mother was reporting what happened to her. [P’s] account contains the following sentence: ‘I asked her what had then happened and she told me that she had let the father have sex with her as it was easier than to keep saying no.’ That can hardly be said to support a coherent account of rape.”

42. Thus the circumstances in which the complaint was made was impliedly, and to some extent explicitly, criticised by the judge because the Appellant had originally accompanied a friend to the police station to complain about the Respondent’s aggressive behaviour to that friend, and it was the friend who had raised the incident of sexual assault on the Appellant with the Police. The friend told the Police, as the judge quoted in his judgment (above), ‘”I asked her what had happened and she said that she had let the [Respondent] have sex with her as it was easier than saying no.”‘ This, the judge found, could hardly be said to support a coherent account of rape. This conclusion is obtuse, any decision of consent must include a coherent account (to borrow the judge’s own phrase) and consideration of the extent to which the complainant or victim was free to choose and to consent, or to paraphrase the relevant criminal statute (s74 Sexual Offences Act (SOA) 2003), that person has had the freedom and capacity to make that choice. It is arguable, at the very least, that the evidence before the judge was that the Appellant’s freedom and capacity to choose had been extinguished or at least gravely compromised.

43. At paragraph 28 of his judgment, which reads
“My findings on this occasion, as to both these occasions, is that the sex between the parties carried the consent of both. This was not rape. It may have been that at a point during both occasions of intercourse the mother became both upset and averse to the idea of the intercourse continuing. But if she did so, I emphasise this was something which was usual for her, the product of events in her past and her psychological state in not being able to take physical pleasure from sex. It was not a consequence of any action on the part of the father. Moreover, at no point during these occasions do I find that the mother withdrew consent or conveyed to the father any discomfiture that she was feeling about the intercourse continuing. I cannot even, on this evidence, find that the father was somehow insensitive to the mother’s position. I can accept that he would have asked for sex perhaps on a number of occasions before sex commenced, but that is as far as it goes. Given the nature of these allegations I have felt it necessary to set out these detailed findings in respect of it.”

44. Thus, the judge had accepted that “at a point during both occasions of intercourse the [Appellant] became both upset and averse to the idea of intercourse continuing. [My emphasis]” but he continued to reach the conclusion that had the Appellant done so it was not as a consequence of any action on the part of the Respondent because it was “something that was usual for her, the product of her past and her psychological state in not being able to take physical pleasure from sex.” The judge went to say that “at no point do I find that the [Appellant] withdrew consent or conveyed to the [Respondent] any discomfiture that she was felling about intercourse continuing.” The judge failed to explain the reasons for his findings; as to why, if it was evident to the judge that the Appellant had become averse to sexual intercourse continuing it was not evident to the Respondent; and, secondly, why it was acceptable for the Respondent to insist on sexual intercourse knowing that it was distressing and unwelcome to the Appellant. The evidence that the judge had rehearsed thus far did would not support such a finding nor did he give any or adequate reasons for preferring the evidence of the Respondent, other than the bald comment in paragraph 13 that he had found him to be “the more convincing witness, giving his evidence in a straight-forward, forthright manner…” The fact is that this judge had largely relied on his view that the Appellant had not vigorously physically fought off the Respondent.

45. Moreover, the judge did not consider or explain in his judgment why, as it was an accepted fact that the Appellant was unable to take physical pleasure from sex, there was no onus on the Respondent to establish that the Appellant was able to and was freely exercising her right to choose whether or not to participate in sexual intercourse. The logical conclusion of this judge’s approach is that it is both lawful and acceptable for a man to have sex with his partner regardless of their enjoyment or willingness to participate.

Legal Discussion: serious sexual assault in family proceedings
46. The Court of Appeal has considered the issue of analysing factual findings based upon criminal law principles and concepts in Re R (Children) (Care Proceedings: Fact Finding Hearings) [2018] 1 WLR 1821 : [2018] 2 FLR 718, Sir Andrew McFarlane (P) found that as a matter of principle it was fundamentally wrong for the Family Court to be drawn into an analysis of what had happened through the prism of criminal principles and concepts as proceedings could “…easily become over-complicated and side-tracked from the central task of simply deciding what has happened and what is the best future course for a child”. Nonetheless there are many cases where the approach taken in the criminal courts to the interpretation of facts and analysis of evidence has been considered both helpful to, and applicable, in family cases; in any event there should be congruence of approach in both the family and criminal jurisdictions which would require some knowledge and understanding of the relevant approach criminal law particularly where consent is an issue. Two years previously in Re H-C [2016] 4 WLR 85 Lord Justice McFarlane (as he then was) said “I have taken the opportunity to refer to R v Lucas in the hope that a reminder of the relevant approach taken in the criminal jurisdiction will be of assistance generally in family cases.” It can be taken from this that approach applied in the criminal jurisdiction are of relevance in the Family Court and in family proceedings.

47. While a trial in the Family Court cannot, and must not, set out to replicate a trial or to apply, or seek to apply, Criminal Law or statute it cannot be lawful or jurisprudentially apposite for the Family Court to apply wholly different concepts or to take an approach wholly at odds from that which applies in the criminal jurisdiction when it comes to deciding whether incidents involving sexual intercourse, whether vaginally penetrative or not, and other sexual acts including oral penetration, penetration by an object or in other form were non-consensual. Non-consensual sexual intercourse was considered lawful within a marriage until as late as 1992 (Cf. R [1992] 1 AC 599) it has not been lawful in any other sphere for generations. There is no principle that lack of consent must be demonstrated by physical resistance, this approach is wrong, family judges should not approach the issue of consent in respect of serious sexual assault in a manner so wholly at odds with that taken in the criminal jurisdiction (specifically the changes in place since SOA 2003 and subsequent amendments). Serious sexual assault, including penetrative assault, should not be minimised as a part of or as an example of coercive and controlling behaviour (itself a criminal offence) although such behaviour may form part of the subordination of a potential victim’s will (see the guidance set out at paragraphs 19 and 20 above).

48. To consider the relevant approach to be taken reference should be made to the statutory provisions in respect of consent; s 74 of the Sexual Offences Act (SOA) 2003 provides that “‘Consent’ (for the purposes of this Part – my parenthesis) a person consents if he agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.” There are circumstances in criminal law where there can be evidential or conclusive presumptions that the complainant did not consent set out in ss75 & 76 which, respectively, concern the use or threat of violence by the perpetrator and the use of deception; neither of which preclude reliance on s74 (Cf. Blackstone’s B3.46 2020 ed.)

49. To quote from Blackstone’s Criminal Practice [2020 at B3.28] where the absence of consent is considered it is said “the definition in s74 with its emphasis on free agreement, is designed to focus upon the complainant’s autonomy. It highlights the fact that a complainant who simply freezes with no protest or resistance may nevertheless not be consenting. Violence or the threat of violence is not a necessary ingredient. To have the freedom to make a choice a person must be free from physical pressure, but it remains a matter of fact for a jury as to what degree of coercion has to be exercised upon a person’s mind before he or she is not agreeing by choice with the freedom to make that choice. Context is all-important.” There can be no reason why this approach should not be followed in the Family Court, whilst applying a different standard of proof. The deleterious and long-term effects on children of living within a home domestic abuse and violence, including serious sexual assault, has been accepted for some years, as is the effects on children’s welfare, and their ability to form safe and healthy relationships as adults, if their parents or carers are themselves subjected to assault and harm.

50. In respect of consent in the criminal jurisdiction, which should inform the approach in the Family Court, the authors of Blackstone’s set out at B3.29 “Consent covers a range of behaviour from whole-hearted enthusiastic agreement to reluctant acquiescence. Context is critical. Where the prosecution allegation of absence of consent is based on lack of agreement without evidence of violence or threats of violence, there will be circumstances, particularly where there has been a consensual sexual relationship between the parties, where a jury will require assistance with distinguishing lack of consent from reluctant but free exercise of choice.” The Court of Appeal Criminal Division considered that a direction along the lines of the direction of Pill J approved in Zafar (Cf. the Crown Court Compendium (July 2019), chapter 20.4, para. 4) may well be appropriate. It should be advisable for Family Court judges to remind themselves of this approach and direct themselves appropriately based on the relevant approach contained in Chapter 20.

51. With further reference to B3.29 (Ibid) and the approach to take in making the distinction lack of consent from reluctant but free exercise of choice; “submission to a demand that a complainant feels unable to resist may in certain circumstances be consistent with reluctant acquiescence” (Cf. Watson [2015] EWCA Crim 559); or where a complainant’s free choice was overborne so that they did not have a free choice; an example of which was when a complainant gave into a perpetrator’s demands because she was scared that if she did not he would have sex with her by force.

52. As a further example of the approach to be taken in respect of consent in civil proceedings in Archbold Criminal Pleading and Evidence 2020, Chapter 20, Part II, at A [20-23] reference is made to the case of Assange v Swedish Prosecution Authority [2011] EWHC 2849 as
“relied on in R. (F.) v DPP [2013] EWHC 945 (Admin); [2013] 2 Cr. App. R. 21, DC, for the proposition that ‘choice’ is crucial to the issue of ‘consent’; and the evidence relating to ‘choice’ and the ‘freedom’ to make any particular choice must be approached in a broad common sense way; where, therefore, a woman consents to penetration on the clear understanding that the man will not ejaculate within her vagina, if, before penetration begins, the man has made up his mind that he will ejaculate before withdrawal, or even, because ‘penetration is a continuing act from entry to withdrawal’ (s.79(2) (§ 20-42)), decides, after penetration has commenced, that he will not withdraw before ejaculation, just because he deems the woman subservient to his control, she will have been deprived of choice relating to the crucial feature on which her original consent was based, and her consent will accordingly be negated.”

53. A further and instructive distinction between consent and submission and the approach to be followed was drawn in R v Kirk (Peter & Terence) [2008] EWCA Crim 434: [2008] 3 WLUK 36, by Pill J at [92] where the expression “willing submission” had been used in directing the jury, it was said that the use of the expression was
“not an easy one in this context. Willingness is usually associated with consent. However, we are satisfied that the jury would not, in the context of this very full direction, have been misled by the use of the word “willing”. This was not a case where it was alleged that submission had been achieved by physical force. It was willing in the sense that there was no attempt at physical resistance by the complainant and the judge used it in that sense. That leaves open the possibility that the circumstances were such that the complainant submitted to sexual intercourse rather than consented to it. That was the overall effect of the direction. We are satisfied that, having regard to the full direction given, the jury would not have been misled or distracted, by the use of the expression “willing submission”, from the question they were told they had to answer. It is not, however, an expression we would commend for use on other occasions.”

54. The judge in the instant case should have considered the likelihood that the Appellant had submitted to sexual intercourse; he singularly and comprehensively failed to do so instead employing obsolescent concepts concerning the issue of consent.

Standard of proof applied

55. Finally, having previously dealt with procedural matters in respect of Part 3A which was ground vii), it is necessary to consider the judge’s approach as to the standard of proof he was obliged to apply. As Lieven J said when allowing the appeal “at paragraph 10 of his judgment the judge made comments on his approach to the standard of proof ought to be considered. The judge appeared to be troubled by the fact that if he made a finding, the binary nature of the law means he would have to proceed on the basis it was correct, even if he were wrong.” It is evident that in making his observations the judge was, in fact, applying a higher standard of proof than the simple balance of probabilities; for at paragraph 10 the judge said, after describing the standard of proof as a difficulty in this case, “So, if I find myself in respect of a particular allegation 51 percent favouring the evidence of one party and only 49 percent of the other, if in other words it is finely balanced, there is a grave risk that I get it wrong – but thereafter would have to treat my findings as absolutely correct.” He compounded the impression that he was troubled by applying the correct balance of proof when went on to say “In short, whilst it is the court’s duty to investigate and make findings, as best it can in accordance with the evidence, there is very often so far that the court can safely go before the benefits of a fact-finding begin to diminish.”

56. The standard of proof is the balance of probabilities, as set out by the House of Lords in Re B (Care Proceeding: Standard of Proof) [2008] 2 FLR 141. The words of Lord Hoffman in Re B which apply to serious sexual and physical abuse and assault as they would to any finding of fact: “If a legal rule requires facts to be proved, a judge must decide whether or not it happened. There is no room for a finding that it might have happened. The law operates a binary system in which the only values are nought and one.” The judge gave the appearance of being reluctant to apply that standard, moreover, at paragraph 22, having reiterated that the standard of proof is the simple balance of probabilities he went on… “[t]he difficulty here is that on any view, as I have said the mother’s case is poised, it might be said exquisitely poised, on a point between non-consensual and consensual sexual intercourse which was not, at the time towards the mother’s taste or inclination.” This comment is a further example of the judge’s apparent reluctance to apply the binary system and thus the correct standard of proof. The judge has erred in law by applying, or appearing to apply, a higher standard of proof.

57. Any finding of fact in private law or CA 1989 proceedings, and in all civil cases must be based only on the evidence. As Lord Justice Munby (as he then was) has said in Re A (A child) (Fact Finding Hearing: Speculation) [2011] EWCA Civ. [12] “It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence and not on suspicion or speculation”. Yet in the absence of evidence the judge found that the Appellant had been “guilty” of aggressive acts herself. The judge has erred in law by making this finding.

58. For the reasons set out above the judgment was so flawed as to require a retrial; his decision was unjust because of serious procedural irregularity and multiple errors of law. The case is to be remitted for retrial by a High Court Judge or Deputy High Court Judge at the Royal Courts of Justice.

59. Judges in the family courts are regularly required to make decisions and find facts in cases where there is domestic abuse; this will include cases where serious sexual assault is alleged to have taken place. Currently there is comprehensive training on the procedural aspects of such trials and the implementation of PD12J in particular. Judges who sit in the family courts are not, however, required to undergo training on the appropriate approach to take when considering allegations of serious sexual assault where issues of consent are raised. Such training is provided to judges who are likely to try serious sexual allegations in the criminal courts. In principle the approach taken in family proceedings should be congruent with the principles applied in the criminal jurisdiction. I have discussed this with The President of the Family Division, and he is going to make a formal request to the Judicial College for those judges who may hear cases involving allegations of serious sexual assault in family proceedings to be given training based on that which is already provided to criminal judges. This is a welcome development, a cross-jurisdictional approach to training on this important topic will be of assistance, support and benefit to all judges and will foster a more coherent approach.

60. These are the reasons for the order allowing the appeal and consequential orders, including for a retrial, which were made in December 2019 following the hearing.

AR January 2020

EF, GH, IJ (care proceedings) [2019] EWFC 75
Fact finding hearing in which the conduct of the police during the ABE interviewing process rendered the evidence unreliable
The court was concerned with three brothers aged 17, 14 and 12. All 3 were joined as parties to these proceedings and separately represented from the other. Serious allegations of sexual abuse were made by them against their father and members of paternal family. The paternal grandparents and paternal uncle were therefore joined as interveners in the case.

In 2017, when the parents marriage had broken down, the mother told the father she believed he had raped her the year previous and the relationship was now over. This allegation was later determined not to have happened in a fact finding hearing in private law proceedings.
Following the breakdown of the marriage, the father attempted suicide on two occasions and after a brief return to the family home, lived with the paternal grandparents where his contact would take place with the children.
Children services became aware of this family after the father’s first suicide attempt and an assessment started during which it was noted that there was a warm and positive relationship enjoyed between the children and their father and that the family were shielding the children from the father’s suicide attempt and were being supported by their paternal grandparents.
After the second suicide attempt, the mother attended her GP surgery as she was concerned that the children were suffering stress as a result of the father’s poor mental health and the parents agreed they should seek a referral for them all to the local Camhs.
Within three weeks of the second suicide attempt, the father again threatened to kill himself causing the mother to telephone the police informing them of the same.
In the following month the father informed the mother by text that he would not attempt suicide again and that he wanted to live and so the family fell into a pattern of gradually increasing weekly contact between the father and his children at the home of the paternal grandparents. No concerns were raised in this regard.
Over the summer the mother petitioned for divorce and the parties underwent a mediation process and whilst initially the mother had agreed that the children could go on holiday with their father to France, she reneged on this after a string of allegations were made by the children, firstly alleging physical harm against their father and his family, then increasing in severity to serious sexual abuse by their father, paternal grandparents and paternal uncle. These matters were part of private law proceedings brought by the father.
From August 2018 until March 2019 a police investigation was carried out by DC Andrews (now retired) and the children underwent 22 ABE interviews between them. These were often on consecutive days and were unusually long in duration; on one occasion an interview went on for over 3 hours. This evidence is summarised in the judgment and was of great concern to both the Judge and Expert instructed in the case. The children were also subjected to medical examinations.
Care proceedings were issued in March 2019 by which time the children were not having any contact with their paternal family and were aware of the outcome by the court of the mother’s rape allegation against the father.
Clinical Psychologist, Dr David Glasgow, was instructed to advise on a re W exercise for a fact finding hearing. Dr Glasgow expressed serious concerns regarding the conduct of the ABE interviews concluding that in his view they were “a disservice to the children, their family and to the family Court” and that the primary effect was to elevate concerns regarding the evidence of the children and place an increased burden on the family Court. His concerns are set out at paragraph 113.
Intermediaries were appointed to assist each boy during their oral evidence and special measures implimented. The judgment goes into great detail about the evidence heard and the concerns raised by the Judge as to the truthfulness thereof. Over the course of the hearing, and after their oral evidence, each child retracted some/all of their allegations and it soon became apparent that the mother didn’t believe that they had happened either and that the father posed no risk of harm to any of them.
A significant feature in this case is the conduct of DC Andrews. The court determined that the role she played in the lives of the family was hugely significant and that she breached most aspects of the Guidance and of accepted Good Practice when interviewing the children. The strong criticisms of her are detailed at paragraph 279 whereby the Judge concluded that the investigation carried out by her was done “in such an incompetent and harmful manner” and was “inexcusable”. The ABE interviews were so poor that little or no weight could be placed upon them.
The mother also came under criticism from the court for her omissions to act as a reasonable parent, the court concluding that she had caused the children significant emotional and psychological harm by failing to respond to the children’s allegations properly from the outset. There were allegations made by the children that she knew to be untrue yet she failed to challenge the children and appropriately reassure them that the father was infact a safe parent.
The court, having considered the totality of the evidence, could not even begin to be satisfied that the requisite standard of proof was reached and therefore did not make any of the findings sought and established that the threshold criteria was met.


Neutral Citation Number: [2019] EWFC 75
Case No: WV19C00108


Birmingham Civil Justice Centre

Date: 06/12/2019

Before :

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Between :

– and –
AB 1st Respondent
CD 2nd Respondent
AND IJ 3rd – 5th Respondents
KL 1st Intervener
MN 2nd Intervener
OP 3rd Intervener
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Mr R Hadley (instructed by The Local Authority) for the Applicant
Mr P Pressdee QC and Miss K Brown (instructed by Talbots Law) for the 1st Respondent
Mr S Momtaz QC and Ms V Clifford (instructed by Harrison Clark Rickerby Solicitors) for the 2nd Respondent
Mr J Vater QC and Ms K Taylor (instructed by Anthony Collins Solicitors) for the 3rd Respondent
Ms J Lattimer and Mr M Cooper (instructed by McDonald Kerrigan Solicitors) for the 4th Respondent
Ms L Meyer QC and Ms L Higgins (instructed by Rees Page Solicitors) for the 5th Respondent
Ms K Gallacher (instructed by Sharratts Solicitors) for the 1st and 2nd Intervener
Ms A Giz (instructed through Direct Access) for the 3rd Intervener

Hearing dates: 19th November – 6th December
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Approved Judgment
I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.

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 children and members of their 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.

The Hon. Mr Justice Keehan :
1. In these public law care proceedings, I am concerned with three brothers, EF who is 17, GH who is 14 and IJ who is 12. Their mother is the First Respondent, AB and their father is the Second Respondent, CD. All three young people were joined as parties to these proceedings and are separately represented one from the other.

Keehan J

In the matter of Nasrullah Mursalin [2019] EWCA Civ 1559
Baker Henderson and Coulson LJJ
Judgment: 22nd September 2019

The appellant was a member of Lincoln’s Inn, and hoped to train and practice as a barrister. He was working as a paralegal under a principal for a firm of solicitors in Hounslow, which specialised in immigration and family law. The appellant assisted in the preparation of a case in the Immigration and Asylum Tribunal and he prepared and filed a bundle. The bundle included a number of papers from family proceedings. The family court had not given permission for this disclosure and so this was a breach of Section 12 Administration of Justice Act 1960 and rule 12.73 FPR 2010 and a contempt of court.

The Tribunal found that the behaviour of the legal representatives fell a long way below that expected of solicitors, and requested a copy of this decision be forwarded to the Family Court for the attention of the relevant family judge.

The appellant provided a statement for the family court. At a further hearing in the family court the appellant attended but had not been served with notice of the hearing. The family judge required the appellant to take the oath and give evidence. He was warned that this was potentially a very serious breach which may lead to committal and can carry a term of imprisonment of up to 2 years. The appellant was offered the opportunity to seek legal representation and advice. He elected to proceed. He admitted to a breach of court rules, under his principal’s instructions. The Judge’s ruling was that the breach was so serious it could only attract a custodial sentence, and he sentenced the appellant to imprisonment for 6 months, suspended for 6 months. The Judge directed the principal to report himself to the Law Society (meaning presumably the SRA).

The appellant sought to appeal. He stated that he did not understand what was going on at the hearing.

Held: Committal order set aside

The court has repeatedly stressed that committal proceedings are of the utmost seriousness and it is imperative that the strict procedural rules governing such cases must be complied with. In this case the consequences of the disclosure may not have been as serious as in other cases. Nothing in this judgment should be interpreted as excusing the unlawful, unauthorised disclosure of confidential Family Court documents. However, it was plain there were a number of procedural errors which inevitably led to the conclusion that the appeal must succeed:

1. It was unclear whether or not the hearing was conducted in open court.

2. It was clear the appellant was given no proper notice that he was being accused of contempt of court or of the specific allegations against him. The warnings by the Judge about the consequences of a finding of contempt or the exchanges about legal representation were not anything like adequate to protect the appellant’s rights. The proper course which should have been adopted at that stage was either (a) to have issued a reprimand to the principal who seemed to have been principally responsible for any unauthorised disclosure, or (b) if the Judge considered it merited committal proceedings, to have particularised the alleged contempt and then adjourned the hearing to enable the appellant to consider his position and obtain legal advice.

3. The failure to particularise the allegations led to the further defect that it appeared the Judge was never shown the specific documents from the family proceedings which had been disclosed to the Tribunal, so it was impossible for the Judge to gauge the seriousness of the alleged breach.

4. There was little sign the Judge considered the extent of the appellant’s culpability. It did not seem to have occurred to the Judge that the principal may have been the real culprit.

5. The errors were compounded by the Judge’s direction to the appellant to go in the witness box. He overlooked the fact that a defendant to an application for committal is not obliged to give evidence.

The Court had no doubt that the appeal must be allowed and the suspended committal order be set aside.

PQ v RS and others (Legal Parenthood: Written consent) [2019] EWFC 65
Mrs Justice Theis
Judgment 15th October 2019

These were Children Act proceedings in which PQ sought a declaration of parentage and RS sought a declaration of non-parentage pursuant to S55A Family Law Act 1986. PQ was the non-biological parent of two children who were conceived following fertility treatment involving a sperm donor. RS was the mother.
PQ and RS agree that prior to any treatment, they both believed they were consenting to PQ becoming a parent of any child born as a result of the treatment, and they both believed they had signed whatever was legally required to ensure they were both became parents. They continued to believe this after the children were born, after they had jointly registered the children’s birth naming PQ as the children’s father.

In 2014, following an audit pursuant to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 PQ and RS were informed that the consent to being a legal parent form had been filled in incorrectly in that they had inserted their respective names in the wrong boxes. They both met with the clinic but decided to take no further action. In 2017 they separated. In the same year, PQ applied for a child arrangements order and the proceedings were adjourned for the issue of parentage to be determined. The children wee joined as parties and a guardian was appointed.

The HFEA 2008 provides a framework for the acquisition of parenthood by a non-biological father whose partner undergoes fertility treatment at a licenced UK clinic.
Provided the conditions are fulfilled, legal parentage is crystallised at the point at which the fertility treatment takes place. This was confirmed by Sir James Munby in Re HFEA 2008 (Cases A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H) [2017] 1 FLR 366.

PQ and RS agreed that: Both PQ and RS believed they were consenting to PQ becoming the parent of any child born as a result of the treatment at the Clinic; Both PQ and RS believed they had signed whatever was legally required, to ensure they both became parents; Both PQ and RS continued to believe the above, after the children’s birth and after they jointly registered the children’s births naming PQ as the children’s father on their birth certificates; and, PQ wrote to the CMS in late November 2017 stating that he had obtained written confirmation from the clinic that he was not the legal parent of the children.

RS argued that rectification of the ‘consent to being a legal parent’ form, is a discretionary equitable remedy and that the court should not order rectification in favour of PQ because of his conduct post separation. RS relied in part upon the delay in bringing the application and upon the fact that PQ had denied being the parent and this had been relied upon by third parties.

Held The application to rectify the consent to being a legal parent form was granted. PQ was granted the declaration of parentage.

The court summarised the circumstances in which mistakes on the face of the documents can be corrected:

1) This is permissible if the mistake is ‘obvious on the face of the document and it is plain what was meant: In the matter of HFEA 2008 (cases A-H, Declaration of Parentage) [2015] EWHC 2602 (Fam))

2) The court can do this by way of construction or rectification Re Y, Z, AA, AB and AC [2017] EWHC 784 (Fam) [11]).

3) In either case (correction or rectification) the fact of the parties’ separation is ‘legally irrelevant…for…the legal status of all parties finally and irrevocably crystallised at the moment when the embryo or the sperm and eggs were placed in the mother, or the mother was artificially inseminated, and this treatment resulted in the birth of the child’: Re Y, Z, AA, AB and AC [2017] EWHC 784 (Fam) [65])

The Children’s Guardian and PQ argued that the court should be concerned with what the parties’ intentions were at the time the consents were signed. Whilst ‘conduct’ may be relevant to the Children Act Proceedings, it is not relevant for the declaration of parentage.

In this case the Form PP had been filled in incorrectly so that PQ and RS’s names were in the wrong part. There is no evidence to suggest this was anything other than a mistake, and the clinic did not pick up on this at the time. It was only as a result of the audit that the error was identified. The judge decided that the errors in the form are clear and obvious mistakes, and the court has jurisdiction to correct these mistakes by transposing the parties’ names into the correct sections on the PP form. The purpose of rectification is to permit equity to rectify the terms in the written instrument, namely the PP form, so as to make it accord with the true agreement of the parties at the time. The judge agreed that the focus of the court’s concern is the parties’ common intention at the time, as this is when the status crystallises.

F v M (Appeal) [2019] EWHC 3177 (Fam)
Judgment: 21st November 2019

This was an unsuccessful appeal by the father against a finding of fact that he had raped the mother, resulting in the subject child’s conception. The mother alleged that at first, intercourse between them was consensual. She did not want him to ejaculate inside her because they were not using contraception. She told him to stop but he carried on. The circuit judge found that knowing that the mother wanted him to stop, he knowingly carried on and ejaculated inside her. This was rape.
The father was granted permission to appeal the finding he had ‘raped’ the mother. He acted in person at the appeal. He said the judge had not properly considered all the evidence and the inconsistencies in the mother’s evidence. Further, he said the judge had not considered that the sexual intercourse had always been consensual, and the ejaculation was an accident on his part. The mother relied upon the definition of rape as the intentional penetration of the vagina without consent or where the person does not reasonably believe the other consents.

Held: Appeal dismissed. The appeal judge noted that the circuit judge had found that both parties had not been entirely honest in their evidence and had given herself an appropriate direction under R v Lucas; R v Middleton [1981] QB 720. The judge had properly considered the burden and standard of proof, carefully evaluated the evidence and she had written a detailed, thorough judgment. The appeal judge had found a rape had occurred not because of the ejaculation but rather, as the mother had withdrawn consent to the sexual act when she asked the father to stop part-way through the act. The continued penetration became a serious sexual assault which, in criminal law, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was classed as rape. The appeal was dismissed.

Raqeeb v Barts Health NHS Trust (Litigation Friend) [2019] EWHC 2976 (Admin)

At the age of 4, the child suffered extensive and irreversible brain damage. The child required constant life-sustaining treatment. She was minimally aware, if at all, but did not appear to be suffering pain. Medical consensus was that continued medical intervention would only sustain her life at or very near her current condition but if maintained, she would live for a substantial period of time.

The child’s parents wanted the child’s treatment to continue. The parents wanted to take the child to Italy to continue her treatment. The doctors wanted the treatment to be withdrawn, resulting in her death.

There were two applications:
1) an application for judicial review brought on behalf of the child by her litigation friend XX (a relative) seeking a review of the NHS Trust decision not to permit the child’s transfer to Italy to continue life sustaining treatment. In the case of this decision, the court would be functus as to the wider ‘best interests’ decision

2) an application by the NHS under the Children Act 1989 and the inherent jurisdiction for a declaration that it was in the child’s best interests, for life sustaining treatment to be withdrawn

XX was appointed by the court as litigation friend at an earlier hearing. The NHS opposed that appointment but did not appeal the decision. The NHS subsequently made an application to terminate XX’s appointment on the grounds of a change of circumstances and invited the court to substitute the OS or the child’s parents. The NHS contended that XX lacked the ability to take a balanced and even-handed approach to the merits of judicial review and would only ever hold a settled view to pursue a course in line with the tenets of Islamic Law, which did not support the withdrawal of the life-sustaining treatment because:

• XX lodged a position statement in the CA1989 proceedings opposing the withdrawal of treatment

• A fatwa had been obtained from the Islamic Council of Europe and served by TR’s parents indicating that it would be a grave sin for any Muslim to consent to the withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment for TR. This placed XX in an untenable position

• The NHS was uncomfortable that TR was being “caused” to argue that there was no need for, and she was not entitled to, a fully argued ‘best interests’ decision
Held: The NHS application was refused.

The court gave a detailed review of the statute and case law pertaining to litigation friends. The application was refused for the following reasons:

• XX was litigation friend in the judicial review proceedings only. The issue in those proceedings was whether the NHS decision was unlawful by reference to the child’s rights under directly effective EU law (Specifically Art 56 of The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union which concerns free movement in relation to the provision of medical treatment).

• There was no suggestion that XX had been incompetent, had failed to acquaint herself with the issues or had, with the assistance of a highly experienced legal team, failed to take all steps necessary to further the interests of the child in that litigation

• In response to the assertion that XX was unable to act impartially, the court found:- That assertion concerned the potential consequences of the judicial review application being successful, not the merits of the application. XX’s views about the religious probity of withdrawing treatment were not relevant to the administrative law issue

– XX had a highly experienced and specialist legal team. There was no suggestion that she sought to pursue a course for improper motive. A solicitor acting for a child or protected party was likely to be under an obligation to inform the court of any such concern. In any event, the NHS had conceded, and the court granted permission for judicial review

– Even if XX’s love for the child and her religious belief, rather than legal advice, was the driving motivation for XX to pursue judicial review, it was not inevitable that a successful outcome would result in no ‘best interests’ evaluation being conducted. That decision was also a question of law, and XX’s familial affection and religious belief were not relevant to it

• The delay that would be caused by granting the NHS’s application, particularly in circumstances where there was no indication from the OS on her willingness to act or timescales and the inevitable derailment of the final hearing was not in TR’s best interests

• In any event, the court was not persuaded that there had been a material change in circumstances since XX’s appointment

The court ordered the NHS to pay the costs on the application but declined to order them to be paid on an indemnity basis as sought by the parents, because although the application was ‘not successful and indeed might be characterised as misconceived’, it did not amount to unreasonable conduct of proceedings.

Re A (Children) (Parental Alienation) [2019] EWFC
HHJ Wildblood QC
Judgment: 24th September2019

This was the father’s application for child arrangements orders in respect of his children, against a background of parental alienation. The proceedings went on for 8 years and involved over 36 court hearings and the involvement of more than 10 experts. A children’s guardian was appointed. Public law proceedings were initiated. Eventually, and on the recommendation of 3 experts, the judge who since 2017 had heard the proceedings throughout, ordered that the children live with their father. There was a transfer plan, which involved the children being collected after school to go and live with their father. The move did not go well. The children were extremely hostile and ran away more than once. Within a month they had returned to their mother. By the date of the final hearing, the children had not seen their father for 3 months.

At an earlier hearing, the father was granted permission to withdraw his private law applications. At the final hearing, the court granted leave for the public law applications to be withdrawn. With regret, the court accepted that there was nothing more that it could do to try to promote a relationship with the father.

The judge decided to publish a heavily anonymised Judgment because this was such an exceptional case that it is “in the public interest for the wider community to see an example of how badly wrong things can go and how complex cases are, where one parent (here the mother) alienates children from the other parent. It is also an example of how sensitive the issues are when an attempt is made to transfer the living arrangements of children from one residential parent to the other parent.

The judge acknowledged that there was no doubt that in the long-term, what has occurred within this family will cause the children significant and long-term emotional harm and that the cause of this harm lies squarely with the mother.

The judge identified 10 factors that with hindsight, had contributed to difficulties in the case:

i) There was a failure to identify, at an early stage, the key issue in this case – the alienation of the children from their father by the mother. By the time that it was identified, the damage had been done.

ii) Overall there was significant delay within the proceedings.

iii) At the early stage of the private law proceedings the case was adjourned repeatedly for further short reviews. There were eight orders for review hearings in the first two years of the private law proceedings alone. Under the current Children Arrangements Programme (PD 12B of The Family Procedure Rules 2010) which came into force on 22nd April 2014 this would no longer be allowed to happen1.

iv) At no point prior to the judge’s involvement in 2017 was there a full hearing on evidence to determine what was going on in this family. There were underlying and important allegations of fact that needed to be resolved but also, there needed to be a definitive judgment explaining the difficulties within the family so that future work with the family members could be based upon that judgment.

v) The use of indirect contact in a case where there is parental alienation has obvious limitations, as this case demonstrated. The father’s letters, cards and presents were being sent by him into a home environment where he was ‘demonised’. They served no purpose in maintaining any form of relationship between the father and the children. It was regrettable that there was not more perseverance in the earlier private proceedings to resolve the obstructions to contact.

vi) The proceedings saw a vast number of professionals. Each new person brings a new, personal and different insight into a case of this nature. Family members (especially children) are embarrassed about speaking of personal issues with strangers, develop litigation fatigue and learn to resent the intrusions into their lives by a succession of professional people. The children reached a stage where they said: ‘no more.’

vii) A particular difficulty in this case was the absence at times, of collaborative working by professionals. A particular example of that occurred when an attempt was made to move the children to the father’s care. The professionals involved with the court process and the schools had not had sufficient dialogue before that move was attempted. If professional people show their disagreements, as happened in this case on the day of transfer, it undermines the process and allows cherry-picking by family members of what they want to hear.

viii) Early intervention is essential in a case such as this. It took years (probably five) to identify the extent of the emotional and psychological issues of the mother. By that stage it was too late for there to be any effective psychotherapeutic or other intervention in relation to her, the children’s views having already become so entrenched.

ix) There is an obvious difficulty about how to approach the expressed wishes and feelings of children who are living in an alienating environment. If children who have been alienated are asked whether they wish to have a relationship with the non-resident parent there is a likelihood that the alienation they have experienced will lead them to say ‘no.’ Therefore, in this type of case, the approach to the wishes and feelings of children has to be approached with considerable care and professionalism. To respond simply on the basis of what children say in this type of situation is manifestly superficial and naive. The children’s expressed wishes that they should not see their father had gone on for many years. The lack of an effective and early enquiry into what was happening within the family meant that there was no effective intervention. That, in turn, led to the children’s expressed wishes being reinforced in their minds. It has also resulted in the mother being able to say ‘we should listen to the children’, rather than addressing the underlying difficulties.

x) It was unfortunate that the joinder of the children to the second set of proceedings was so delayed. Any attempt to conduct these proceedings without the joinder of the children would have been even more complex and unsatisfactory.

1 Paragraph 15.3: ‘While it is acknowledged that an interim order may be appropriate at an early stage of court proceedings, cases should not be adjourned for a review (or reviews) of contact or other orders / arrangements and/or for addendum section 7 reports, unless such a hearing is necessary and for a clear purpose that is consistent with the timetable for the child and in the child’s best interests.’