Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In the matter of A (A Child): Appeal dismissed

Lady Hale hands down the judgment
The Supreme Court has handed down judgment in In the matter of A (A Child).

The Issue
Whether disclosure of the identity of the accuser and substance of allegations of serious sexual abuse made by a third party should be disclosed to parties involved in contact proceedings relating to a child.

The Facts
A, who is now 10 years old is the daughter of Ms G (‘mother’) and Mr J (‘father’). Her parents married in 2000 but separated in 2002, when A was 6 months old. The father applied for a contact order in the county court in 2003. A number of orders were made culminating in a final order in 2009 providing for A to stay with her father for two weeks every February from 2010 onwards and for four weeks every summer. X (a young person) made allegations of serious and sustained sexual abuse by the father that allegedly took place when she was a child. X did so in confidence but did not wish to take her allegations any further and initially refused to have her identity or the details of her allegations disclosed even to her own family. Social Services contacted the mother and told her that allegations of sexual abuse had been made against the father by an unnamed person and she should take steps to protect A. As a result, the mother applied to vary the contact order based on this information. The father and A’s appointed Guardian applied for disclosure of X’s identity, the substance of the allegations and her medical records. X suffers from significant mental and physical health problems which at times have been life threatening. The psychiatric report prepared on her behalf said that forcing her to disclose her identity and give evidence in the proceedings would have a seriously detrimental effect on her health. Prior to the matter being transferred to the High Court, social services had inadvertently disclosed the identity of X to the mother only. The mother went and saw X who merely confirmed to her the allegations were true with nothing further said. Mr Justice Jackson having had sight of all the confidential material refused to order disclosure on the basis the effect on X’s health would be too detrimental. The Court of Appeal reversed that decision and ordered disclosure.

The Decision
The appeal by X against the decision of the Court of Appeal was unanimously dismissed by the Supreme Court. Giving the only judgment, Lady Hale said that: "The only possible conclusion is that the family life and fair trial rights of all three parties to these proceedings are a sufficient justification for the interference with the privacy rights of X."

You can read a press summary of the judgment here, the full judgment here and the Court of Appeal judgment here.

1 comment:

  1. This case is one of those which left me thinking “I should bloody well hope so too”.

    The child and the father were threatened with loss of their contact. The latter and the former’s guardian were entitled to know every scrap of evidence which would be placed before the judge – especially where it alleged serious criminality by the father.

    I am indeed surprised that the father did not appeal the finding that X and the mother were not in collusion. That, it seems to me, is a conclusion that the judge could not safely reach until after the mother had given evidence and called X and both had been available for cross-examination on behalf of the father.

    I share the father’s concern that any less rigorous approach would open the door to mothers who wanted to end contact and were not too scrupulous about how to do it. Put somebody up to make these allegations and refuse to testify! Hey presto and goodbye Daddy from the child’s life.


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