In Focus: Re W (Care Order: Judge’s Failure to Engage with Evidence)
A Watford judge ignored detailed evidence that three children were at risk of emotional harm – prompting a local authority to successfully appeal – and have its application, to put the children into long term care, reheard.
In Re W 2014 [EWCA Civ 1361] the court heard that the three children’s mother had a long term mental health condition and the father had previously had an alcohol problem. Their relationship was volatile and got worse when the mother started a new relationship. The three children all had educational needs as well as behavioural and development problems.
Under a child protection plan, the mother agreed to leave the home but returned briefly stating she was homeless. The father allowed this return but gave evidence that he soon realised it was a serious mistake
At the hearing the Local Authority Family Assessment Team, an independent social worker, a local authority social worker and the children’s guardian all gave detailed evidence that while the father was able to meet the physical needs of the children he was incapable of providing the emotional care they required.
Judge Serota said in the first hearing “emotional care, which is said the father cannot provide, is a harder concept to grasp than physical care.” He ruled that providing the father stopped allowing the mother to return home the emotional care would be good enough to allow the children to remain with their father under a supervision order.
Setting the judgment aside in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Macfarlane said Judge Serota’s judgment “shows acutely the difficulty the judge perceived in identifying the deficit in the father’s ability to care for the children.”
He said “I am sufficiently concerned that the result of this process is wholly unsatisfactory.” He placed the children on an interim supervision order and ordered the case be reheard.