Tight deadlines for dealing with family cases are beneficial, the Court of Appeal has said, after it upheld a challenge by a father concerning a ‘substantially delayed’ judgment.
R:T (Children) concerned care proceedings that started in Bournemouth Family Court on 14 February 2014 with respect to 10 of 15 children born to the mother. The father in the proceedings was parent to the youngest nine of the 10 children.
The appeal related primarily to four of those 10 children.
His Honour Judge Meston did not hand down judgment until 17 March 2015 – around six months after the final day of oral evidence at the end of a seven-day hearing.
He made an order authorising the local authority to place the four youngest children for adoption. They had remained in the care of their parents.
The father’s grounds for appeal included failure by the judge to properly consider evidence indicating ‘sustained and significant change’ established by the parents during the six months prior to the judgment.
Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Lord Justice McFarlane said that in the original judgment, “at no stage does [the judge] acknowledge that a very significant period of time has passed since the close of evidence”.
He added that as the parents’ ability to care for their children was at the core of the case, the original judge should have taken more recent behaviour into account. Therefore, he granted the father permission to appeal the decision.
McFarlane took the view HHJ Meston should have obtained ‘short updating evidence’ from the local authority, the parents and the Children’s Guardian on the welfare of the four children.
The appeal was allowed and sent back to the family court so “the necessary updating evidence” can be filed and considered.
McFarlane LJ said: “As no challenge is made to the judge’s analysis of the children’s welfare on the material that was already before the court, there is every good reason, and no objection, for the case to go back to HHJ Meston, as opposed to a fresh tribunal, so that he may undertake the analysis of the updating material that is, as I have found, required.”