(Court of Appeal, Arden, Black, Davis LJJ, 6 November 2013)
A fact-finding hearing took place in relation to nine children aged between 15 and 3. The judge concluded that the father had sexually abused the mother's older child, now aged 28, on several occasions from when she was a child and that he had also sexually abused a younger child over a number of years from when she was 6 years old. The judge further held that the mother knew of the abuse of the eldest child and failed to protect her children.
The parents appealed primarily on the basis of the judge's approach to the hearsay evidence gathered by the local authority. The principal source of evidence was what the eldest child had told social workers and they reported that to the court. Despite the judge making orders for the filing of evidence, no statement was produced and the eldest child did not attend court to give evidence. Nevertheless the hearing proceeded without further discussion.
The Court of Appeal, supported by a great deal of authority on the issue of hearsay evidence in children cases, found that the judge had erred in her treatment of the evidence. Those authorities emphasised the need for courts to consider measures that could be taken to assist witnesses in engaging with the court process.