ON APPEAL FROM PORTSMOUTH COUNTY COURT
(HER HONOUR JUDGE BLACK)
(Lower Court No: PO10F01088/P00474)
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LORD JUSTICE WILSON
|IN THE MATTER OF G (A CHILD)|
WordWave International Limited
A Merrill Communications Company
165 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2DY
Tel No: 020 7404 1400 Fax No: 020 7831 8838
Official Shorthand Writers to the Court )
Mr Neil Maton (instructed by Churchers Solicitors, Cosham) appeared on behalf of the Respondent Father
Crown Copyright ©
Lord Justice Wilson:
"My application this morning, your Honour, before you would be to seek an interim hearing. We would wish to put forward my client's mother as an appropriate supervisor for contact until such time as the long-term contact arrangements are dealt with... ultimately Your Honour we would also seek a report."
One construction of the solicitor's words was that he was at this review hearing only seeking a direction for an interim hearing to be set up at a later date, at which his proposal for supervision by the grandmother might be considered; but Mr Maton has persuaded me that it is arguable that the solicitor was seeking a direction for a change in the supervision there and then. All we know is that the father's solicitor had informed the mother's solicitor about his proposed change of supervision only at the moment when they were both entering the judge's court.
The solicitor: "Were you aware of the domestic violence inflicted by your son on the mother?"
Grandmother: "I never witnessed anything of my son doing anything to [the mother]."
The solicitor: "Were you aware that something was happening within the household?"
The solicitor: "But nothing physical?"
"I think that we would like to see the safeguarding checks, most certainly, before any further decision is made, your Honour. There are some areas that I am not comfortable with."
"The bottom line is that there ought to be some contact at the moment. It ought to be supervised by a family member rather than in a contact centre, given the age of this child; I would have thought as a matter of principle that has got to be right. So, those are the first two sort of points. The third is trying to establish someone who can safely deal with that supervision of contact. I would certainly want to see the safeguarding checks on the grandmother, in particular in the light of the evidence that she has given, but were they to confirm that she has no convictions and no involvement with social services at this point in time, then, given that we are looking at a fairly short period of contact pending your client's trial, there would seem to be no particular reason why she should not supervise the contact, unless the parents can come up with another alternative in the meantime. I am not convinced that it is terribly helpful for contact to be supervised by someone who does not really know the father. So if there was, if you like, anyone who both parents know, then that would be the ideal but, if not, then, subject to the tests being appropriate, then it would be the grandmother, for two hours, supervised, on a weekend, on a Saturday."
"Your Honour I respectfully submit, with all the force at my command, that it would be wrong at this juncture for your Honour to vary the arrangements for contact so as to make the grandmother the supervisor or supporter of contact. I rely on the following 13 features:
(1) it was agreed between the parties as recently as at the hearing on 20 September 2010 that contact needed to be supervised at a contact centre;
(2) my client's statement, to which I have already referred in passing and which I hope that you may have had time to read, raises serious issues of domestic violence against the father but also issues of collusion on the part of the grandmother with the father which would, if established, make her an entirely inappropriate supervisor of contact;
(3) it is (I suggest) important to note that, long before any proposal was made that the grandmother would be an appropriate supervisor of contact, my client was, in that statement, making allegations against the grandmother which turn out to be highly relevant to that very issue;
(4) the father has never filed a statement, whether by himself or by the grandmother, in answer to my client's statement;
(5) the police have seen fit to charge the father with offences of assault, including indecent assault, upon my client and we understand that they are due to be heard in less than three months' time;
(6) it was agreed between the parties at the hearing on 20 September that the father should take part in an anger management course and a domestic violence perpetrators' programme but he has not yet begun to do so;
(7) this hearing was set up by the district judge simply as a review of contact and I had no notice that at it there was to be any suggestion of a change in the nature of the supervision of contact;
(8) in particular I had no notice, prior to walking into your Honour's court, that my friend was intending today to contend that the grandmother should become the supervisor or supporter of contact;
(9) I have had no time in which to prepare cross-examination of the grandmother and no statement has been filed by her by reference to which I might have taken instructions and formulated my questions;
(10) only 30 minutes have been allotted for this hearing and such has been an entirely inappropriate period in which for us to argue, still less for your Honour to determine, what is an important point in relation to the safety of T during contact;
(11) your Honour has, with respect, had no time even to hear from my client about her concerns and, in particular, to hear her cross-examined by my friend if and insofar as, which is unclear, the father disputes the matters contained in her statement dated 25 August;
(l2) as your Honour so well appreciates, where there is a history of substantial domestic violence, the question whether contact arrangements will generate anxiety and distress for the mother, indirectly damaging for the child, is itself an important feature, which your Honour has today had no time to address; and
(13) your Honour's own, few, questions of the grandmother uncovered a bombshell, namely that her former husband had sexually abused -- or as she said in evidence had 'apparently sexually abused' her two daughters and that she had been cleared; on any view the sexual abuse of two daughters in her home raises serious questions about her ability to act as a protector of children in her care or temporary care; and the suggested enquiries into whether the grandmother has previous criminal convictions, or indeed whether, now that the former husband has left the home, the local authority are presently involved in relation to the daughters, would in no way answer them."
Lady Justice Smith:
Order: Appeal allowed