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CARE PROCEEDINGS: Re J (Care Proceedings: Injuries) [2009]

Date:27 FEB 2009

(Family Division; Hogg J; 27 February 2009)

The child was admitted to hospital with skull fractures and some slight bruising. The parents' account was that the father had dropped the child. The mother's account was completely consistent, in that she said she had been in the kitchen, and returned to the living room when the father called to find the father in considerable distress, saying that he had accidentally dropped the child on her head. The only inconsistency in the father's account was that initially he said that the child had fallen directly onto the floor, and later said he believed she had hit her head on the table on the way down. The experts agreed that the injuries and the circumstances were unusual; they had concerns about the father's account of the incident, considering that it was more likely that the child had hit her head three times than that she had hit her head once or twice, but could not rule out the possibility that the injuries were accidental in nature. The child had been placed with the paternal grandmother, and the parents had had extensive contact with the child, giving her supervised care. All the professionals concerned had produced very positive, indeed glowing, parental assessments. Although listed as a 5 day case, the professionals concerned agreed to take a 4 day slot offered by the judge, in order to obtain a significantly earlier decision for the child, with the additional benefit of judicial continuity.

The judge was not satisfied that it was more likely than not that the injuries were non-accidental, and dismissed the care proceedings. The child was to return to the parents' care. The judge commented on how impressed she had been by the sensitivity, consideration and co-operation between the local authority, the parents and extended family, in what must have been extremely difficult circumstances. The local authority could not be criticised for bringing the case to court, given the severity of the injuries and the possibility that they were non-accidental; indeed the authority had proceeded in an open, fair and independent manner. The judge went on to make important remarks about the speed with which the trial had been able to come on, a speed that had been possible only because counsel and the legal teams involved were all experienced. The use of experienced advocates in complex care proceedings was essential; all parties were entitled to high quality legal representation, particularly parents where there was a serious challenge to the medical experts' evidence or other complicated issue of fact.