Guidance given in child support cases where a parent is fearful of attending hearing because of intimidation
Range of measures available to assist party to attend
The Upper Tribunal has provided guidance as to how the First-tier Tribunal should exercise case management powers in child support cases where a parent expresses concern about attending a hearing because of fear of intimidation by the other parent.
In WA v (1) Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, (2) P (CSM)  UKUT 0086 (AAC) Upper Tribunal Judge Mitchell said that if a parent expressed concerns about attending a hearing because of fear of intimidation, the tribunal must address the issue.
In the case before him the children's mother, who was the resident parent (RP) had written to the First-tier Tribunal prior to the hearing of an appeal by the non-resident parent (NRP), explaining that she felt "unable to attend the appeal" because of alleged aggression, which she stated was still ongoing (§ 6). She also alleged that in reality the children stayed overnight with the paternal grandmother to some extent, and invited the FtT to contact NRP's employer, who she stated would confirm that his shift work prevented NRP's compliance with the contact order. NRP's appeal was allowed.
RP appealed to the Upper Tribunal. The Secretary of State's representative "strongly supported" the appeal, adding that there was "little case law addressing these circumstances".
The Upper Tribunal allowed RP's appeal and provided general guidance in such cases.
Judge Mitchell said that a mini-trial as to whether the alleged concerns are genuine is not necessary but providing that the concerns are "not fanciful", then the tribunal "must consider what case management and/or hearing management steps should be taken to give all parties a reasonable opportunity to put forward their cases" (§ 32).
Following that, a "sensible first step … would … be to write to both parties to stress that everyone has the right to attend a hearing without fear of intimidation and that the tribunal will not tolerate any [such intimidation]".
The tribunal may "set out in writing the steps that can be taken to assist a party to participate and invite them to request that a particular step is taken and why. Any such communication should record that it is given on a neutral basis; that is without making a finding as to whether any allegations made are accepted" (§ 33).
The tribunal may seek the views of one parent before another.
Steps which could assist a party to participate included:
- "simply explaining to a reluctant party the Tribunal's powers, and obligation, to ensure an orderly hearing" (§ 15),
- altering the "type of venue" (§ 15),
- altering the "format of the hearing" (§ 15),
- the "presence of a security guard in the hearing room" (§ 16, 34),
- "attendance by telephone link" (§ 20, 34),
- use of a video-link (§ 26),
- "laying out the hearing room in a particular way to create physical separation" (§ 15, 34),
- "use of screens if available" (§ 34),
- "staging the parties' entrance and departure from the room, and their waiting arrangements, to minimise proximity" (§ 34),
- directing that "a person be appointed for the purpose of the hearing who has the appropriate skills or experience in facilitating the giving of evidence by a…sensitive witness" (§ 26, as recommended in the PD "Child, Vulnerable Adult and Sensitive Witnesses").
For the judgment and detailed summary by Gwyn Evans of Tanfield Chambers (from which this item is derived), please click here.