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If someone takes issue with allegations made against them in care proceedings, is it appropriate to boycott any court hearing?

The Court of Appeal in London recently considered a case where the father made blanket denials before refusing to participate further. 

Background

Following the breakdown of her parents’ relationship in 2011, A lived with her father for over nine years until February 2021, when, aged 12, she was found alone at home by the police and removed to a family placement.

There were allegations of neglect and physical abuse against the father, which he denied. Subsequent allegations of sexual abuse were met with the response that they were “entirely fabricated” and the suggestion that A had been “brainwashed”. 

The children’s guardian recommended that A should not give evidence “in any form”. At the fact-finding hearing in January 2022, the judge watched video recordings of A’s interviews. The father refused to participate because if A wasn’t attending court, neither was he.  

Judgment

Sitting in the Family Court at Guilford, Circuit Judge Nisa said: 

I understand that the reason given by [the father] is that, if A is not attending court, then he is not attending court either. I think that is an absolute ridiculous reason for an adult to give as to their non attendance. Mother is clearly in court. I do not see why the father should not be in court. There are serious allegations that are being levied at the father. His response is a simple denial and saying that the mother or the grandmother or both have put A up to making these allegations against him.

The judge concluded that the allegations of neglect, verbal and physical abuse were made out on the evidence adduced by the local authority.  

On the allegations of sexual abuse, she concluded:

Looking at all the other evidence, all the other disclosures to the professionals, the notes she has made, all added together paints a picture that this child is telling the truth.

The father appealed.

On Appeal

In short, this was a case in which the judge carefully considered the evidence and set out her findings, and the reasons for making them, in a judgment which, although delivered ex tempore, was comprehensive and thorough. 

This was not a case in which the limited departure from the [Achieving Best Evidence (ABE)] Guidance was on a scale which undermined the reliability of the child’s allegations. 

The judge was plainly aware of the details of the investigation, and took into account all the submissions made about it on the father’s behalf. In those circumstances, there is no justification for this Court interfering with her findings. For those reasons, I concluded that the appeal should be dismissed.

per Baker LJ at 29

His appeal was dismissed.

Comment

To boycott proceedings is an unusual stance to adopt in any case. In care proceedings, legal aid is available to all parents regardless of income – making any refusal to participate all the more foolhardy.    

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