(Family Division, Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, 2 November 2016)
Public law children – Care proceedings – Appeal – Application for rehearing – Birth parents withdrew challenge to findings – Whether the rehearing could and should proceed
The President held that the rehearing of a fact finding should proceed despite the birth parents withdrawing their challenge to the original findings.
Care proceedings were initiated in relation to the 4-year-old child, X, when it was discovered that X had suffered various injuries including metaphyseal fractures. A fact-finding hearing concluded that the injuries had been cause by one or other or both parents. X was placed with prospective adopters who applied for an adoption order. The parents were refused permission to oppose the adoption.
In 2015 the parents stood trial for child cruelty offences under s 1(1) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 but were acquitted when the prosecution abandoned its case. Thereafter the parents sought permission to appeal out of time the original findings in care proceedings. The local authority conceded that the findings needed to be reconsidered in light of the evidence adduced in the criminal proceedings. The local authority applied under the inherent jurisdiction for a re-hearing of the fact findings.
Prior to the scheduled rehearing the parents contacted the court asserting that they no longer sought to challenge the original findings. They maintained that they did not harm X but they recognised that it would not be in the child’s best interests to be removed from the care of the prospective adopters where X was settled. It fell to be determined whether the rehearing could and should proceed.
The President held that the rehearing should proceed. The best interests of X and the public interest pointed affirmatively in that direction. The rehearing must proceed so that the truth could be ascertained finally and definitely in light of all of the available evidence. If the birth parents chose to take no part in the rehearing the court could be reasonably confident of their positions and that the essential fairness and validity of the process would not be compromised.