Thursday, August 30, 2012

Re K (Children): How not to conduct yourself when faced with care proceedings

Lord Justice McFarlane
In this recent post I pointed parents towards two excellent posts advising how they should conduct themselves when faced with the possibility of having their children taken into care. A Court of Appeal judgment today is another illustration of the need for such advice, with the mother and stepfather doing themselves no favours by the way they behaved, both with regard to the investigation by social services and the court proceedings, contravening the advice given in both posts.

Re K (Children) [2012] EWCA Civ 1169 concerned an application by the mother and stepfather for permission to appeal against an interim care order removing the child from their care and placing him with the maternal grandparents, and a special guardianship order made in favour of the maternal grandparents. The application was granted, but it seems clear from the judgment that neither the mother nor the stepfather have helped themselves.

Both the mother and stepfather took it upon themselves to choose when they should cooperate with social services, and when they should attend court, withdrawing from engagement in the process when they considered that it was going against them, or that the end result was a fait accompli. Giving the judgment, Lord Justice McFarlane does not say that they were the cause of their own misfortune, but obviously refusing to cooperate is likely to lead to an unfavourable result.

Further to this, the original basis for the making of an interim care order was emotional abuse in the home of the mother and stepfather, as a result of the stepfather's alleged bullying and intimidating behaviour. Given this, the stepfather did not help himself by his behaviour when he and the mother gave oral submissions to the Court of Appeal via video link. As Lord Justice McFarlane said (at paragraph 22):
"It is right to record that much of the early part of the hearing was dominated by [the stepfather] who allowed his anger and frustration to manifest itself to the extent that it was difficult for us to focus on the substantive points that the couple wished to make. [The stepfather] sought to prevent [the mother] from addressing us at all. It was only when [the stepfather] was persuaded to subside and [the mother] was permitted to address the court in more measured tones that we came to see more clearly the potential merits of their case. At the conclusion of the hearing my Lord [Lord Justice Ward], with characteristic bluntness and charm, advised [the stepfather] in no uncertain terms to control his anger and frustration at any subsequent hearing and to allow [the mother], who is after all the mother of these children, to be the principal advocate of their case."
Now, obviously parents (or step-parents) are likely to get angry and frustrated in these situations, and it is easy for those advising them to tell them to control their temper, but it really is essential, as failure to do so is likely to do irreparable damage to their case. Fortunately, in this case, the damage may be repairable.

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