Father wins contact appeal after being ‘ambushed’ in court
A father who felt that he had been ambushed during legal proceedings has successfully appealed against a decision denying him direct contact with his son.
The case involved a couple who had separated after a troubled relationship. They had one son who lived with the mother. The father was granted supervised contact but applied to be allowed direct contact.
At a fact-finding hearing, the court heard evidence that the father had been physically and verbally violent towards the mother and that on one occasion, the child would have been aware of the mother's fearful reactions to the father's behaviour.
A psychological assessment indicated that the father presented a low risk in respect of day-to-day anger management, but posed a higher risk in the context of conflict with a close relative. It stated that if the father could control his gambling addiction, supervised direct contact should be attempted.
Legal proceedings continued until the mother and father attended a hearing which had been listed simply for directions.
However, the judge proceeded to treat it as a final hearing. The father complained that he had not been prepared for such a hearing and had not had legal representation.
He had not expected that evidence would be put forward by officers from CAFCASS, the organisation that looks after the interests of children in family cases. He was not qualified to cross-examine such officers.
During the hearing, the judge held that the father had not gone so far as to accept his violent behaviour, and still felt animosity and a sense of injustice. The judge refused his application for direct contact and ordered that he could not make another application for three years.
The father appealed on the grounds that he had been ambushed at the directions hearing, and had not been able to put his case properly.
The Court of Appeal ruled in his favour. It held that it was not appropriate to give the impression that speed had trumped justice. The judge had not made clear the need to explore different options.
The matter was remitted to a different judge to satisfy the father's sense of injustice and to ensure that the child's welfare could be accurately appraised in light of all the evidence.
Please contact Paul Owen or Kirsty Bowers if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of family law.