Another warning to parents that choose not to engage with the court

Couple looking out in the distance

I wrote here only recently about the perils of not engaging with the court, a phenomenon that sadly arises with considerable frequency in family law proceedings. In fact, only a day after that post was published I came across another case that illustrates all too clearly just how disastrous such a course of action can be.

The case, O (A Child: Fact Finding Hearing – Parents Refusing to Participate), involved public law child care proceedings, but one can easily envisage a parent in a private law case about arrangements for a child taking a similar stance to the parents in this case. In fact, I have come across many such cases over the years.

I suppose that there are people who refuse to recognise the authority of the court in all areas of law, but it does seem more prevalent in the field of family law. Perhaps it is the way that family law seems to interfere with the very way in which private lives are led. Many people have very strong views about how they should lead their lives, and take exception to the courts telling them what to do. This is particularly so where one of the parties is dominant within the family, and used to getting their own way.

That appears to have been the scenario in this case. The judge, His Honour Judge Bellamy, noted that the family’s health visitor had found that the father presented “as a controlling and domineering partner”. She went on: “he was overpowering in saying what he thought, above [the mother’s] voice, interrupting her at times, to express himself. His verbal presentation was loud, that his opinion was right.”

The health visitor’s description of the father mirrored Judge Bellamy’s own experience of him in court. He said: “I formed the view that the decision that both parents should be unrepresented was a decision taken by the father and that it was a decision the mother has felt obliged to accept. Although she may understand that her interests would be better served by being legally represented, the father’s domination of her has meant that she has been unable to act in her own best interests.”

It is not necessary for the purposes of this post to go into the detail of the case. It related to a one-year-old child, who was found to have suffered serious injuries, as a result of which the care proceedings were instituted. This judgment concerns a fact-finding hearing to ascertain the cause of those injuries.

Sadly, as indicated above, the parents chose to be unrepresented for almost the entirety of the proceedings, despite free legal aid being available to them, and despite Judge Bellamy encouraging them to seek representation. Further, they did not attend court on a number of occasions, including at any point during the fact-finding hearing.

As Judge Bellamy stated, given that the parents genuinely desired that the child should be returned to their care, the way they approached the proceedings was “curious”. Again, I won’t go into details, but an example of the parents’ behaviour was that, whilst not engaging with the court, they chose instead to engage in public protests relating to the actions taken by the local authority, including one occasion when the mother was seen outside the council building holding a placard which read “The Derby City Council and Royal Derby Hospital tortured me and stole my baby for adoption”.

Judge Bellamy commented:

“The parents’ failure to engage defies all logic. The effect of their failure to engage could prove to be catastrophic for them and for the son whom they clearly love very much indeed.”

He concluded by finding that the child’s injuries were non-accidental, and were caused by either the mother or the father. He said:

“In making that finding I acknowledge that had the parents engaged with these proceedings, including giving evidence at this finding of fact hearing and had they taken advantage of their entitlement to specialist legal representation provided at no cost to themselves, the outcome of this hearing could conceivably have been different. However, the court can only arrive at its conclusions on the basis of the evidence before it.”

In the light of the parents’ behaviour, there was concern that the parents may publish the judgment, in a form that would identify the child. Judge Bellamy, therefore, made an injunction ordering them not to do so. Upon being informed of the injunction, the father stated that he still intended to publicise the judgment, and the mother agreed. The father also stated that he did not recognise the court’s jurisdiction, and welcomed the threat of imprisonment for breach of the injunction.

This case is another very serious warning to parents against being tempted not to engage with the court. As I indicated earlier, it applies equally to private law children proceedings. Just because things are not going the way you want them to go, or because you have heard that the law is biased, that does not mean that the courts do not have the best interests of your child at heart.

As Judge Bellamy said, failure to engage could be catastrophic, not just for you, but also for your child.

You can read the full judgment here.

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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4 comments

Fred - July 12, 2018 at 1:11pm

Once again, the courts are dysfunctional, the ‘professionals’ are too often similarly so. The arrogance of those who work within the system is palpable. It’s a broken system, that absolutely doesn’t put children first.

You can’t blame parents for a lack of confidence in this system. It’s profound reputational deficit is entirely of its own making. It needs to reflect upon itself, measure the outcomes of its decisions and learn how to do things better. And there needs to be sweeping reform, rebuilding of the governance institutions to actually protect the public over and above the members who sustain these so called ‘regulatory bodies which amount to little more than collegiate clubs. – HcPc, SRA and so forth.

Terry james Scales - July 12, 2018 at 5:49pm

Well said Fred. I’ve just started to read these blogs, it’s appears self evident to me that the essence of them are to maintain a narrative the sustains power and control over families.
From my understanding of history, when the state becomes increasingly involved in marriage and family that culture is in decline. The culture has adopted liberal policies that have stretched the culture beyond what it is required to maintain itself.
The family sustains culture and Society, the ideology that seeks to destroy the family underpins family law.
The ideology transcends people, it’s an idea, ideas are difficult to get rid of.
As a society we need to open are eyes to this ideology, it’s destructive capabilities, history shows us what happens to a society that operates outside of our biological norms.
Let’s remove the state from family, allow responsibility to thrive, encourage marriage, discourage divorce, encourage the nuclear family. You would never hear this from the writer of this blog.

Paul - July 12, 2018 at 6:34pm

The family courts system is there to act in the best interests of children. It is absolutely not in existence to provide “justice” for their parents, and it is wrong that the current nomenclature continues to foster that mistaken impression.
Many men and some women who correctly feel that their protracted trips to the family courts do not provide a result that was fair to them.

Terry james Scales - July 13, 2018 at 12:21pm

Respectfully Paul, you have no idea what you are on about.
How can you remove parents from the equation of a child’s well being.
The evidence for fathers and their relationship with their children needs to be around the 50% mark this is required to foster a relationship that is beneficial to the child and there are a multitude of reasons for this, yet with proclivity and pure malevolence family court judges, influenced by cafcass and social workers order contact around the 20% mark. This 20% is basically making the the child fatherless, around 40% of fathers with this level of contact lose all contact with their child.

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