COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)
ON APPEAL FROM SHEFFIELD COUNTY COURT
HER HONOUR JUDGE CARR QC
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LADY JUSTICE BLACK
| K (Children)
|- and -
|Sheffield City Council
Miss Sally Terris (instructed by Best Solicitors) for the 2nd Appellant
Ms Jessica Pemberton (instructed by Legal & Governance) for the Respondent
Hearing dates : Friday 4th March 2011
Crown Copyright ©
Lady Justice Black :
"Upon the Local Authority confirming that it will undertake a limited viability assessment in respect of the changes that the parents are saying exist in their situation in relation to their marriage, their position that they wish to jointly care for the children and that the parents are saying that they now accept and understand the Local Authority concerns and are prepared to co operate fully with the Local Authority. The Local Authority will offer an initial joint session and then a further 2 sessions with each parent and then a final summary and feedback session." [sic]
"Upon the Court noting that the previous social worker for N has left the local authority, and a further updated viability assessment has not been completed as a result.
Upon it being noted that Gail Howard has been allocated the matter shall complete this assessment, which it's anticipated shall take a minimum of 6 weeks." [sic]
"28. ….The parents' assertion as to their moving on is quite clear in that they have married, they have lived together part-time from marriage and full-time since 18 January 2010. There has been no allegations of violence since the injunction proceedings in May 2008. I was more interested in having a viability assessment as to the parents' state of change which they told me about on the 10 November 2009. In many respects I consider that Miss Howard did what she could in the period available.
29. She had plainly read all the past papers and was aware of the chequered history of allegations of domestic violence being made and then retracted. She set up meetings so there was a joint assessment session on the 26 February 2010 an individual session on the 2 March 2010, mother cancelled an assessment on the 9 March 2010 due to a doctor's appointment and a planned contact observation did not take place due to AK being ill. I accept that at all material times mother was polite and attended on time. Miss Howard attended on the 3 March 2010 and inspected mother's home and found that it was clean and tidy. She plainly listened to mother and obtained a fair amount of detail from her. Likewise I consider she did her best to carry out an assessment of [F] but unfortunately the timescales to meet the hearing date were very tight and of course I had the observations of [the social worker], the continuing assessment of the guardian and Mr Chekwas' updated assessment. Although some criticisms can be made as to the depth of this assessment it was always only meant to be a viability assessment. I have not in the event, due to the parents' objection of Miss Howard's report, given it much weight in the course of my judgment because it did not do the minimum of 6 weeks and effectively only comprises of one joint session and one individual session and therefore it does not assist me to any great extent in reaching the decisions that I have to. "
Need for a further assessment?
Insufficient consideration of AK's religious and cultural background
"dual heritage and her needs are catered for by [MGM] and [her partner]. AK is not given any pork products and does eat halal meat. The carers are sure that any other cultural needs can be met by her parents via contact. AK is attending nursery this will [sic] enhance her social skills and mix with her peers who are from many different backgrounds…."
F criticises this as at best basic and as revealing a lack of understanding of the extent of the child's needs in this respect. It is submitted on his behalf that it is fanciful to consider that the parents would be able to provide for all AK's religious instruction during contact which takes place once a month for two hours and that the idea that MGM could consult the parents about culture also ignores the poor relations between MGM and the parents. The suggestion made on behalf of MGM that the parents could take AK to Mosque during their contact sessions is also submitted to be impracticable. The social worker had referred the child to a multi-cultural group but it is submitted that that is inadequate as it does not apparently claim to give any instruction in relation to the child's own particular cultural or religious background.
"I regard this as an important matter and that she must continue to acknowledge that this is a little girl whose parents are Muslim"
Section 91(14) order
"The applicant has had sight of the children's guardian's report dated 19th April 2010 where it is noted there is a recommendation for a s. 91(14) order. The applicant feels that this would be in AK's best interests and would request that such an order is made for a period of 3 years."
"The making of a Section 91(14) order preventing further Section 8 applications without the leave of the court, for a period of three years (the parents will need to apply for residence in any event) given the number of applications made by parents to date."
"The law on this topic is clear and having considered AK's welfare I do believe there is a need for a filter and that the matter should be reserved for me. I do not regard Section 91(14) as incompatible with this Human Rights legislation because it should only act as a filter. I am also quite clear that therapeutic intervention is required for both mother and father, which if they do not so engage or obtain the services of suitable therapeutic intervention, will militate against their parenting a child. I have considered the dicta of Lady Justice Butler Sloss in Re M  2 FLR 553. I consider the period of 3 years is arguably too long and make the order so that no application may be made without leave for a period of 2 years 4 months so any application cannot be made until the 14 September 2012. This I hope will allow a period of calm before anything else happens and the reservation of the case to me ceases after that date."
"did not accept that her wishes were being followed through; she does not accept the time scales and is hopeful to come back to court in three to four months. I cannot see, without treatment and stability, what would have changed. It is about safeguarding AK's welfare over that period of time."
Lord Justice Thorpe: