Family and Children
In the case of Re A (children) (care proceedings: judge meeting with child) , The Court of Appeal set out the considerations a judge should have when the children in the case had requested to meet with the judge.
This case concerned five children. The local authority had issued proceedings asserting that the children had all suffered physical and emotional harm and neglect in the care of their parents and also when the mother had been in another relationship.
The children had been placed with foster parents and during the course of the proceedings they began to make serious allegations to their carers. The case was transferred to the County Court and the authority sought findings of sexual abuse of the children by identified family members.
After hearing evidence from the parties the judge reserved his judgement. Shortly before the judgement was to be delivered the oldest child (J) expressed a wish to meet the judge due to J’s anxiety at the forthcoming outcome and the case put forward on behalf of his family.
The mother than submitted an application requesting an urgent directions hearing to deal with the possibility of J meeting the Judge. The judge refused the application and decided he would be prepared to meet the child. The parties would be protected as the judge would relay to them anything the child told him.
After the meeting the judge completed his judgement. The mother and father appealed.
The parents argued that they were denied the opportunity to make representations about the proposed meeting and that the judge had clearly used the meeting to gather more evidence from the J as to his experience of family life.
The appeal was dismissed.
Before meeting a child the judge needed to consider what the objectives of the trial were – to establish what had happened in the past or what should happen in the future. The judge was also required to consider what stage proceedings had reached – whether they were continuing or whether they were concluded as far as evidence was concerned. Judges must be aware of the risks of contamination of proceedings.
In this case the objective was to establish what had happened and the proceedings had been concluded but judgement reserved. This is a more risky situation to meet a child in – compared to proceedings to determine what should happen in the future.
Nevertheless, in this case the judge had explained himself clearly and fully and did not seek to make specific findings on every allegation. He surmised his findings, finishing with his overall conclusions. His meeting with J was added as a footnote for the record. The process had been full and complete and the conclusion rationalised.