(Court of Appeal, Thorpe, Lloyd Jones LJJ, Warren J, 1 Feb 2013)
The father applied for contact with his 12-year-old child who he hadn't seen since she was a baby. The father's relationship with his solicitors deteriorated and eventually they informed him that they were no longer prepared to act for him. The trial bundles were sent to the father but they only arrived on the morning of the hearing after the father had left to attend court.
At the hearing the father sought an adjournment in order to seek representation and informed the judge that a consultant psychiatrist had informed him that he was not fit to present his case. The judge refused the application and made an order under s 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 preventing the father from making further applications.
The father's appeal was allowed. While an adjournment presented the risk of delay and pressures on the court's resources the importance of the fresh evidence from the psychiatrist had to be recognised. Had the correspondence from the psychiatrist been available to the judge it was arguable that he would have made a contrary decision in respect of what was a vulnerable applicant.