Judge branded care proceedings “procedurally unfair”

Chelmsford A couple excluded from care proceedings for the two year old granddaughter were granted permission to appeal in a sternly worded county court judgement.

When the couple, who live in Essex, learned that their daughter’s daughter, now two, had been taken into care, they applied for ‘special guardianship’, a type of fostering in which a child maintains legal links with their biological parents.

However, following  a breakdown in communication with their legal representatives, the couple were excluded from a key hearing in October last year. Essex County Council opposed their application on the basis of a report by an independent social worker. This cast doubt on the couple’s ability to look after the child, “given their busy lifestyle and the number of children already in their care”.

The authority applied for the grandparents’ application to be dismissed from the care proceedings and the court agreed. The family argued that the social worker’s report only represented a “snapshot” of the their life but the court was unconvinced.

They successfully appealed. At Chelmsford County Court, Judge Newton said he was “deeply troubled” by the case and gave the couple permission to appeal “without any hesitation”.

The earlier court decision had been “procedurally unfair”. The couple’s lack of involvement meant their rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to fair trial – had not been “properly examined”, he said.

They should have been “given an opportunity to present their case and to cross-examine the witnesses”, he said. The rights of the mother and child had also been affected.

Judge Newton added: “I am deeply anxious about what occurred.  I am deeply anxious that it has been necessary for this matter to be dealt with in the way that it has.” The earlier court decision had been “fatally flawed”.

At that point, the child was just two days from formal adoption. Following further proceedings, the couple won their case and the girl now lives with them. Judge Newton’s judgement was published following an application by Channel 4 News, who investigated the case earlier this month.

Essex County Council told the channel:

“This case involved very complex and finely balanced decisions which took account of a range of professional advice.”

Photo by Sludge G  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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3 comments

Luke - December 21, 2013 at 5:13pm

Fully credit to Judge Newton, they must be given a chance to keep the child within the family, some of these Council Child Services really need to be reviewed so that changes can be made.

vob re - December 21, 2013 at 9:27pm

These local authorities throughout Britain treat children akin to a game of ‘ Pass the Parcel’ I hope that these poor children that they are regularly trafficking comes back to bite them in the end.
These personal as i am loathed to describe then as Social Workers, because from what i have seen and read there cannot be a maternal bone in their bodies; the only future they are considering is their own !

Dana - December 22, 2013 at 10:37am

Grandparents are rejected by social workers from looking after their grandchildren and the Judge always agrees. Why are grandparents rejected, is it a blanket decision or just some authorities?

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