(Court of Appeal, Black, McFarlane LJJ, Sir Stephen Sedley, 19 April 2013)
Following the breakdown of the parents' marriage the father had contact with the 9-year-old child and her older half-sibling who was born during the mother's previous relationship. Contact stopped when the half-sibling made allegations that the father had behaved sexually towards her, that he had acted inappropriately towards his own child and he had been violent towards the mother.
A fact-finding hearing found the allegations in relation to the mother and half-sibling proved and thereafter supervised contact at a contact centre between the father and child took place. The father applied for a relaxation in contact arrangements and for an increase in frequency as well as overnight staying contact.
The father's application was refused on the grounds that although the contact arrangements weren't satisfactory from the child's view, she was not old enough to understand the potential risks following the findings made against the father. The father appealed, submitting that the judge had been required to provide cogent reasons for departing from the status quo in relation to the contact arrangements which had been in place for a substantial period.
The appeal was dismissed. The judge had to make a decision on the basis of the best interests of the child with an open mind without being restricted by what had gone before. In balancing the risk to the relationship with the risk posed to the child, the judge was entitled to require a tighter contact regime.