(Court of Appeal; Thorpe and Hughes LJJ; 10 February 2009)
The parents had a very low level of cognitive functioning. The local authority applied for care orders in relation to 4 of the couple's children. The authority considered that the eldest child would have to go into foster care, but wanted to place the three younger children with the parents, on the basis of a parental contract, setting out all the local authority's requirements. However, the parents refused to sign the document, which was over 3 pages long. At the interim hearing the local authority sought interim care orders in respect of all four children, supported by the guardian, whose position was that the family home was not safe for any of the children, but that the two youngest children were less at risk than the two eldest. The judge made interim care orders in relation to the two eldest children, but granted interim supervision orders instead of interim care orders in relation to the two youngest children. The local authority appealed, supported by the guardian; both submitted that the judge had misunderstood or misrepresented the guardian's evidence.
The appeal was dismissed. The judge had been entitled, despite his misgivings about the mother's credibility, to make the all-important finding that the mother was prepared to, and in practice did, comply with most of the local authority's requirements. The judge was trusting the parents only for a short time, until the final care hearing, and was doing so only subject to supervision and on the basis that in practice the mother was complying with the local authority requirements. Removing children at an interlocutory stage was quite different to removing children after a full hearing of the merits. The court noted that the management of the case by way of a three and half page contract was itself risk-laded, given the cognitive disability of the parents. There were a number of points in the document, which was not only long but detailed, at which the drafter seemed to have gone beyond what had been essentially necessary.