Welcoming our new High Court judges

family law

Over the last month three new Family Division High Court judges have been appointed, with effect from 2 October. I have been doing a little background reading on them, including having a look at one of the cases they were involved in whilst practising as barristers, and I thought I would share what I have found.

The first of the appointments was Gwynneth Knowles QC. She was appointed last month, following the elevation of Sir Peter Jackson to the Court of Appeal. Her ‘biography’ on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website tells us that she is 55 years old, she was called to the Bar in 1993 (I haven’t been able to find out what she did before then) and became a QC in 2011. She was appointed as a fee-paid Tribunal Judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Health, Education and Social Care Chamber in 2007, as a salaried Judge of the Upper Tribunal, Administrative Appeals Chamber in 2014 and authorised to sit as a Deputy High Court Judge in 2016.

She was a member of Atlantic Chambers in Liverpool, where she was head of the Family Law Group, doing primarily child law work, but also undertaking community care and Court of Protection work. The case of hers that I have chosen is the Supreme Court case from 2013, Re L and B (Children), which concerned the important issue of whether a judge is allowed to change their mind after announcing their decision.

Re L and B was a care case, in which a fact-finding hearing was held to determine whether or not it was possible to identify either of the parents as the sole perpetrator of the serious injuries that the child had sustained. On 15 December 2011 the judge gave an oral judgment in which she held that the injuries had been caused by the father. However, on 15 February 2012 the judge handed down a written judgment which stated that she had “reconsidered the matter carefully” and decided that “to identify a perpetrator would be to strain beyond the constraints of the evidence which I have both read and heard”. Accordingly, the mother could not be excluded from the pool of possible perpetrators.

The mother appealed to the Court of Appeal, which held that the judge was not free to reverse her decision as she had done. However, it was subsequently discovered that the order recording the judgment had not in fact been sealed until 28 February 2012, due to an administrative oversight. The father appealed to the Supreme Court, where he was represented by Gwynneth Knowles QC. The Supreme Court allowed the appeal, Lady Hale saying that the order had not been perfected, and therefore the judge had power to change her mind.

The second appointment was Jonathan Cohen QC, who was appointed consequential to the retirement of Sir Antony Edwards-Stuart. His ‘bio’ tells us that he is 66 years old (and therefore only has four years to sit before retirement, unless the upper age limit for the judiciary is increased), he was called to the Bar in 1974 and became a QC in 1997. He was appointed as an Assistant Recorder in 1993, as a Recorder in 1997 and as a fee-paid Judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Health, Education and Social Care Chamber in 2000 and authorised to sit as a Deputy High Court Judge (in the Family Division) in 2005.

He is a member of 4 Paper Buildings, where he was Head of Chambers from 2003 to 2012. The case of his that I have chosen was actually one where he was technically on the ‘losing’ side, the 2009 Court of Appeal decision in Bokor-Ingram v Bokor-Ingram. The case concerned an appeal by a wife against the refusal of her application to set aside a consent order, on the grounds of the husband’s non-disclosure. Jonathan Cohen QC represented the husband, and appears to have realised how the case was going to go, as it was settled before it was heard, on the basis that the appeal would be allowed and the consent order would be set aside. Sure enough, the Court of Appeal then confirmed that, had the case not been compromised, it would have allowed the appeal. If you would like to know more about this case, Marilyn Stowe wrote extensively here about it, in this post and this post.

The final appointment was David Williams QC, who was appointed consequential to the elevation of Mr Justice Moylan to the Court of Appeal. His bio tells us that he is 53 years old, he was called to the Bar in 1990 and became a QC in 2013. He was appointed as a Recorder in 2016 and authorised to sit as a Deputy High Court Judge in 2017.

He is also a member of 4 Paper Buildings. He has particular expertise in children cases with an international dimension, and it is one such case that I have chosen, the 2014 Supreme Court decision Re LC (Children). The case concerned a mother’s application for the summary return of four children from England to Spain. Their return was ordered, and the father and eldest child, for whom David Williams QC acted, appealed. The primary question was whether the children had been habitually resident in Spain when the father retained them in this country, and the issue arose as to whether, and if so to what extent, children’s views are relevant in the evaluation of their habitual residence. The Supreme Court found that the eldest child’s assertions about her state of mind during her residence in Spain were relevant to a determination whether her residence there was habitual. Accordingly, the court set aside the conclusion that she was habitually resident in Spain on the date that she was retained here, and remitted the issue of habitual residence to the High Court for fresh consideration.

I wish all three of our new High Court judges well in their new appointments, and look forward to reading their judgments.

Photo by Josh Meek via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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