Wednesday, July 31, 2013

PM v MB & Anor: The father who blamed everyone... but himself

Lord Justice Ryder
A summary of PM v MB & Anor [2013] EWCA Civ 969, which involved a father's appeal against the refusal of parental responsibility and the making of a s.91(14) order. It is a warning to fathers in particular that they should look to themselves before blaming others, and that turning their case into a campaign against the family justice system can be counter-productive.

Very briefly: The father's applications for parental responsibility and direct contact were dismissed and a s.91(14) order made. The father was granted permission to appeal regarding the parental responsibility and s.91(14) decisions. His appeal was dismissed.

In a little more detail, the child 'M', a boy, was born in 2002 and is therefore now eleven. The parents, who were not married, separated in February 2007. The father continued to have a "significant relationship" with M until December 2008, when he removed M from school without notice, and disappeared with him, returning him to school the next day. The mother then applied for residence. The father had supervised contact until February 2011, but refused to participate in the hearing that month, and M has not seen him since.

In March 2012 the father applied for contact and parental responsibility. The applications were heard in October 2012. The court accepted the evidence about the father from a psychologist, which was as follows:
"the father presents as an individual who is rigid and inflexible in his thinking, being egocentric and preoccupied, displaying a certain degree of paranoia, traits that are likely (to be) linked to his personality functioning…

The father appears to be an individual who can be defiant, unco-operative and difficult to get along with when he perceives others disagreeing with his views or if they fail to meet his needs in some way…He believes that others are persecuting him, being unable to reflect upon his own actions or responsibility…

When his relationship with the mother broke down, the father struggled to accept this, remaining enmeshed, attempting to seek to have his needs met by the relationship, albeit in a different form. …the father continues to display narcissistic, paranoid tendencies and remains unable to see issues from any perspective other than his own. He continues to see himself as blameless, portraying himself as a victim of parental alienation and a corrupt system in which professionals are biased and take sides and his rights as a father are violated. […]

the locus of enmeshment may well now have shifted to [M] as the father has evolved an idealised view of their relationship and is now preoccupied with the 'fight' to have contact with him."
The father's oral evidence to the judge confirmed the psychologist's evidence:
"He said that he was angry and outraged at the suggestion there should be any supervision of his contact for which he saw no reason. He found it demeaning. He said he would never give up his struggle to see [M] and that he had become a campaigner for children."
As indicated above, the judge refused the parental responsibility application, ordered indirect contact only and made a s.91(14) order for two years. The father sought to appeal, but permission was limited to the parental responsibility and section 91(14) decisions.

Giving the leading judgment on the appeal, Lord Justice Ryder said that:
"This is not a case where the court, the professionals or the mother are, as father believes, "conducting a witch-hunt against him" with biased, unprofessional or dishonest material. Quite the contrary, it was clear on the material before [the judge] and at that time that it was father who represented a risk to his own child and would continue to do so until he realised he needed help or otherwise came to accept the un-contradicted expert evidence about him that existed."
On the parental responsibility appeal, Lord Justice Ryder found no error on the part of the judge. It is telling (and surely not untypical in cases such as this) that the judge identified the 'key issue' as the father's reasons for making the application:
"the father spoke of wanting to exercise his "rights" in respect of [M] and, while the existence of such an order would not entitle the father to intervene in [M's] day-to-day life, I am satisfied that the father would not see it in that way and that his principal aim would be to seek to exercise control over [M] and thereby, indirectly, over the mother"
How many family lawyers have not heard similar?

On the s.91(14) appeal, Lord Justice Ryder was succinct:
"In coming to the conclusion that an order would be proportionate the judge took account of M's present wishes and feelings and father's evidence that this is a crusade that he would never give up. The guardian's evidence which the judge accepted was that M needed to be free of the burden of litigation as did mother ... The judge's reasoning for the order he made was properly constructed out of the evidence he accepted about father. The risk from which the judge sought to protect M was lucidly described and the judge was right to attribute responsibility to father for the heightened risk caused by the use of internet discussion media to campaign about this litigation. In my judgment the section 91(14) order was made in accordance with principle and was neither disproportionate as a response to the facts nor in its nature and extent."
Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed. Lord Justice Beatson and Lord Justice Lloyd gave concurring judgments.

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