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CONTACT: Re C (Contact: Conduct of Hearing) [2006] EWCA Civ 144
Date:27 JAN 2006

(Court of Appeal; Laws and Wilson LJJ; 27 January 2006) [2006] 2 FLR 289

The mother resisted contact between the child and the father on the basis of serious allegations of violence and inappropriate sexual behaviour. Interim supervised contact was ordered; a family support worker observed this and produced a report recording an entirely positive relationship between the father and the child but recommending continued supervised contact because, as the child had not displayed any challenging behaviour yet, it was difficult to assess the father's ability to cope in the future. This was the first time that any question of the father's practical ability to cope with the child had been raised, the mother never having done so. The mother had not withdrawn her allegations, but at the hearing chose not to give evidence, effectively choosing not to pursue them. The judge ordered supervised contact based solely on the evidence of the family support worker in respect of father's parenting capability. Although she had heard oral evidence from the family support worker, the judge made it clear that that there was little point in the father giving oral evidence on this issue, as no matter what he said he could not outweigh the evidence of the family support worker.

The Court of Appeal held that the trial had been unfair. In cases involving children judges had a broader discretion in the mode of their conduct of the hearing than did judges in other civil cases, but the judge should not have effectively denied the father his right to give evidence on a demonstrably arguable issue raised in the course of the trial.