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CARE PROCEEDINGS: Local Authority v M, F and M&M [2009] EWHC 3172

Date:7 DEC 2009

(Family Division; Hedley J; 7 December 2009)

The allegations of violence by the mother against the father included attempted violence with knifes, strangulation, assaults with a screwdriver, boiling water and petrol, false imprisonment, threats to kill the mother and child and kidnap of a child. However, the mother did not leave the father until after his imprisonment for unrelated offences. The father had threatened the mother in letters sent from prison, and the father's family had found out where the mother was living, and made additional threats.

The police had made it clear that they considered all the threats to be wholly credible. The local authority issued care proceedings whose real purpose was to assess and test the mother's ability to remain separate from the father, and effectively to hide from him. The mother applied to keep the father, who had parental responsibility, ignorant of the care proceedings and to discharge him as a party. However, the local authority opposed the application, on the basis that it needed information from the father and his family.

The issue as to whether to take the unprecedented step of excluding a father with parental responsibility from care proceedings, was to be considered within the framework of the advocate to the court.

The starting points were (i) that the father should be entitled to participate in the case, and (ii) that the children and mother should not be put at risk of serious harm by the conduct of the proceedings. This father, even from prison, represented a real and substantial risk to the children and the mother; only his exclusion from the proceedings would realistically achieve the end of protecting the mother and children; although extensive redaction of documents was possible, so many documents would have to pass through so many hands that the risk of accidental disclosure of a crucial piece of information would be high.

Given that the father had shown no interest in making any contact with the children, and that any order to discharge him from the proceedings was to be kept under review, the father would be discharged as a party. The court was wholly unpersuaded that discharging the father and directing that the fact of the proceedings not be disclosed to him would significantly inhibit the authority in the assessment they were undertaking.