(European Court of Human Rights, 14 March 2013)
An application was lodged with the family court to withdraw the parental rights of the parents following a referral by the school attended by the two children, aged 17 and 13, claiming that the 13-year-old girl had disclosed that the children were systematically beaten by their father if they did not do well at school. A temporary order was granted and the children were moved to a children's home. When the parents were informed they denied the allegations and were given no information as to the children's whereabouts.
During the main proceedings medical evidence demonstrated no injuries consistent with physical abuse and the children gave evidence separately, in the absence of the other parties, confirming the original allegations. The court permanently withdrew the parents' parental rights, being convinced that the children's evidence reflected the truth without recourse to an expert opinion as to their credibility. The parents' appeal was dismissed.
The parents applied to have contact with the children but at a meeting prior to the hearing the girl confessed that she had lied about the allegations which was confirmed by the son. The parties agreed to extend contact with a view to moving the children back to the family home. The children were returned and the court restored the parental rights.
The parents complained that the withdrawal of their parental rights had interfered with their rights under Art 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950.
It was accepted that the withdrawal of parental rights undoubtedly constituted an interference with the parents' Art 8 rights. The domestic courts had been confronted with at least prima facie credible allegations of severe physical abuse which was sufficient reason for the court to temporarily withdraw parental rights. The interim order did not, therefore, violate the parents' rights.
In relation to the main proceedings, there were certain facts which were capable of casting doubt as to the truthfulness of the children's allegations. The court was not pressed to render an overly hasty decision once the children were placed in the safety of the children's home and had failed in the obligation to carry out all investigations necessary to establish the relevant facts. The court failed to provide sufficient reasons for withdrawing parental rights permanently and breached the parents' Art 8 rights. Damages were awarded to the parents.