ON APPEAL FROM WORCESTER COUNTY COURT
(HIS HONOUR JUDGE RUNDELL)
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LORD JUSTICE GROSS
MRS JUSTICE BARON
|IN THE MATTER OF C (CHILDREN)|
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Mr Weston QC and Ms Nina Bache (instructed by Worcester County Council Legal Services) appeared on behalf of the First Respondent, the local authority.
Mr Alistair Macdonald QC (instructed by Thursfield Child Care LLP) appeared on behalf of the Second and Third Respondents, the children through their Children's Guardian..
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Mrs Justice Baron:
"The local authority proposes four sessions a year of direct contact with each boy separately -- each session to be of two hours; to be closely supervised and subject to a detailed written agreement … Obviously this is far less generous than father's contact, but in my judgment entirely justified by mother's behaviour over the past 12 months."
At paragraph 88 he said:
If necessary, [the local authority] are prepared to seek an order under section 34(4) if they are of the view that contact would not be in the boys' best interests. That will be a matter for mother."
He specifically said:
"If she mends her ways, no doubt contact will be increased -- perhaps even substantially – but, if not, she knows the consequences."
"…a disturbing tally of damaging inaccuracies identified by Ms Kirby was initially put before the court below in a social worker's affidavit. Although none of these found its way into HHJ Rundell's careful judgment, they indicate a deplorably casual and inappropriately hostile approach to a sensitive and responsible task on which the fate of families can depend."
This was a very severe criticism in judicial terms. I think the criticisms and the failure of the local authority have to some extent bedevilled this case.
"…a severe disturbance in the character logical condition and behavioural tendencies of the individual, usually involving several areas of the personality, and nearly always associated with considerable personal and social disruption."
His specific finding was:
"She is clearly extremely sensitive to any negative comments regarding her or her children's behaviour. She has demonstrated a capacity to bear grudges in the long term. This is demonstrated by her continuous harassment of C children's services and her renewed allegations in relation to [Mr C's] [her first husband] behaviour while they were married. She views the actions of others as being hostile and as a result has been uncooperative with the children's social care. She has been dismissive and minimising of their concerns and has felt constantly threatened by them. She has continued to place herself at the centre of events, finding it difficult to consider the needs of her children and placing those needs ahead of her own."
"Sadly the children remained adamant that they did not want to see her, notwithstanding her efforts, and that placed the social worker and the guardian in an acute dilemma. The local authority has a duty to promote contact and therefore Mrs F, the social worker, has to attempt to persuade the boys to agree to see their mother. At the LAC reviews, the issue was raised regularly. The result is that the boys say that they are losing faith in their social worker who is not, they say, listening to them. The guardian finds herself in a similar position. She told me that, the boys do not want to see her because, 'every time I see them I talk about contact.'"
"I had been asked to see the boys – that application was opposed by the mother – not to receive their wishes and feelings, which by now had been very clearly expressed, but to assess their strength of feeling and to provide them with an opportunity to meet me, the decision maker in their case, and to view the court. I welcomed the opportunity to explain directly to the boys the process and how I would reach my decision. They had of course the services of highly experienced children's solicitors, who accompanied them on their visit."
He then continues:
"I was impressed with the strength of their views."
This was a matter of complaint by Ms Kirby. She submits that it is impermissible for a judge to use his visit with children to assess the strength of their feeling.
Lord Justice Thorpe:
Lord Justice Gross:
Order: Appeal dismissed.