Judge criticises expert witnesses in care case

Empty pram

High Court judge Mrs Justice Pauffley criticised the contribution of expert witnesses in a recent adoption hearing.

The case of Re IA concerned a baby born in London to a couple in their mid-20s. Their previous child, called ‘KA’ in case reports, had died at the age of four months. After his death doctors discovered rib and leg injuries which were thought to have been inflicted deliberately, although no charges were brought. The father had a conviction for injuring his a son from a previous relationship and had no contact with him.

The woman fell pregnant again and the local authority launched care proceedings. It claimed  the mother would not be able to protect the new baby, because she was still reluctant to accept the idea that the father may have been responsible for the earlier child’s death. The new child, ‘IA’, was taken into foster care shortly after birth.

A few months later, the parents separated.

The London Borough of Croydon launched full adoption proceedings. However, the authority then changed its mind, after hearing from the boy’s maternal grandmother at the High Court, and recommended instead that residence be granted to the mother and grandmother, under a 12 month supervision order.

Mrs Justice Pauffley considered evidence relating to the father’s behaviour and concluded that he had inflicted the injuries which had contributed to their first child’s death. The father had been an unimpressive witness who had not been honest with the mother about his background. He admitted taking a manipulative approach to the people around him.

The mother could not be blamed for failing to protect the couple’s first child, or for not asking more questions of the father. The judgement contains a description of the mother’s experiences of the first child’s death:

“It was for her an “extremely lonely and alienating experience.” “Everyone around her had known her child had died but no one knew what to say.” She had “felt angry and upset that (her own) and KA’s privacy had been invaded when everyone came to watch the air ambulance landing in the local school so that he could be taken to hospital.” People, said the mother, “had not felt able to ask her how she was or how she was feeling.” She became aware she “was making people feel awkward just by being there and being sad.” She had stopped wanting to go out, wore sunglasses if she did to avoid eye contact and ‘pretended she was invisible.’ ”

She would always feel guilty about “letting her first son down”.

Mrs Justice Pauffley said she could not “find the mother culpable or deficient” and was  “profoundly impressed by her ability to describe her feelings.”

The judge ordered twice year supervised contact only between IA and his father.

In her judgement, Mrs Justice Pauffley was very critical of the medical report submitted during the case by a consultant paediatrician called Dr Rylance. This had been unnecessarily lengthy, said the judge, running to 35 pages.

“On page 27 of his report, Dr Rylance turned to consider and answer the specific questions asked of him, referring as he did so to many of his earlier paragraphs, as relevant, and repeating their content…..In the 1980s and 1990s before it became the norm for experts (particularly paediatricians and psychologists) to produce absurdly lengthy reports, courts were routinely confronted with, for example, radiological reports in the form of letters which extended to about a page and a half…The modern way exemplified by Dr Rylance’s over-inclusive and doubtless expensive report is no longer acceptable. Experts must conform to the specifics of what is asked of them rather than, as here, provide something akin to a ‘paediatric overview.’ I struggle to recall a single instance when such expansive and all inclusive analysis has been of real utility in a case of this kind.”

Meanwhile, a social work report had been below the required standards. The report:

“…did not reflect the key principles which underpin the workings of the family justice system. I mention just three – first that wherever possible, consistent with their welfare needs, children deserve an upbringing within their natural families…; second, that the local authority’s duty should be to support and eventually reunite the family unless the risks are so high that the child’s welfare requires alternative provision …; and third that orders ratifying a care plan for adoption are “very extreme” only made when “necessary” for the protection of the children’s interests, which means “when nothing else will do”, “when all else fails.” Adoption “should only be contemplated as a last resort”…”

Photo by Naddsy via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Marilyn Stowe

The senior partner at Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers with clients throughout the country, in Europe, the Far East and the USA.

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7 comments

vob - August 20, 2013 at 9:18pm

This lady Judge is to be applauded. There are too many
so called experts far to cosy with local authorities and willing to ‘jump in the gravy train’!
living lavish life styles at the expense and misery of others
There should be no ‘forced adoption’ .

Luke - August 20, 2013 at 10:01pm

It seems like the system got it right in the end – although if the grandmother had not spoken it up it probably wouldn’t have done – at least they had the guts to reverse their decision.

vob - August 21, 2013 at 10:05am

Many other Grandmas and relatives should come forward and fight the shocking system where children are totally removed from their families by forced adoption.
Thank goodness we have we have lady judges, who can really read between the lines ; fortunately we have one in Leeds.
It is regrettable and unjust that legal aid has been cut,
that far too many relatives feel that they cannot fight
the system. To be a ‘Litigant in Person you need some courage and one should get that courage by not letting yours self be intimidated by people who are only people themselves many of whom have their own private issues and are no better than others.
One cannot escape fact that qualified expertise is needed at some stage,what I would say” Make it as difficult as you can to stop them removing children through ‘forced adoption’.

Maggie Tuttle - August 21, 2013 at 11:46am

There are thousands of kids in foster care 1.000 a month taken by the social workers and believe me this will rise very shortly, we also have 1.000s of grandparents who have paid £s in the courts only to end up with a gagging order, please remember to give a home to a grandchild grandparents are free, one kid in care is worth a million pounds or more with also creating millions of jobs in a system that states “In a child’s best interest” I wonder does Mr Timpson MP have shares in any of the foster or adoption agencies.
Maggie Tuttle

evelyn walker - August 22, 2013 at 12:40pm

have given a home to grandaughet for almost 4years.no assessment done .a happy well loved child now in care.appeal turned down. social services are a disgrace.who pays the price the child. shocking

vob - August 22, 2013 at 9:13pm

With reference to the above comment. Take note of the last paragraph of the above report of the judges criticisms. If have been looking after your grandchild for four years you should now have a viability assessment completed even if that was negative by social services you can get an independent assessment. It is for Judge to decide not the social services if or not your grandchild can remain with you. Social services should do all they can and give support for children to remain with family. Whatever the outcome always
remember that if you have loved and cared for your grandchild for four years those feelings are so innate that they will never be replaced by none relatives and material goods. Your grandchild one way or another will reunite with you eventually. There are solicitors who will fight the grandparents corner although they are few and far between
will charge you very little. The system is inhumane genuine
people have no voice to protest. Be Proactive .

Dana - September 2, 2013 at 1:05am

This judge was correct in her summing up of the experts but she is a lone voice! SS do not work with the parents. They do not work with extended family. Assessments are almost always negative. Independant social workers, Cafcass & Expert play follow my social worker leader! Care proceedings is just the first step. The child taken into care or adopted as a first choice not as a last resort. How many children are returned to their own homes after care proceedings? Very few! There should be an independent body to oversee assessments and if judgements are correct. Not the high court who refers back to the original judge and accept that he must be right as he heard the case. How many appeal and what are the statistics for the case to be over turned and the child return home? Not so many I believe.

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