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Re G (A Child) [2006] EWCA Civ 348

Father’s appeal in contact proceedings for CAFCASS officer to meet with child allowed.

Re G (A Child) [2006] EWCA Civ 348

Court of Appeal: Thorpe, Sedley and Thomas LJJ (31 January 2006)

Summary
Father's appeal in contact proceedings for CAFCASS officer to meet with child allowed.

Background
This case concerned a father's contact with his child born in February 2000. The mother and father married, and separated, in the following months, and a residence order was made in favour of the mother. In October 2000, the father applied for a contact order; and, at a milestone hearing in July 2002, the county court judge rejected the father's application for direct contact and imposed a five-year prohibition under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989. The orders made by the judge were reviewed by the Court of Appeal in early 2003, and the section 91(14) prohibition was replaced by a recital that there should be no further application before January 2004.

Following a renewed contact application issued by the father in August 2004, a directions hearing before a different county court judge was ordered for 12 July 2005. On that date, the parties were apparently told that other business had settled, so the court would take the opportunity to dispose of this case as a final hearing. The judge declined to advance to direct contact, but increased the frequency of the father's indirect contact.

The father appealed on the ground that the judge had refused to allow the CAFCASS officer a full and proper opportunity to see the child and ascertain her wishes and feelings concerning contact: the judge's reasoning for the refusal was that, if the CAFCASS officer recommended direct contact, in accordance with the child's wishes but against those of the mother, the court would inevitably be on a collision course with the mother, leading either to the court backing down or the mother being sent to prison.

Judgment
Held, allowing the appeal, that the reasoning adopted by the judge reflected an altogether too old-fashioned approach to the difficulties presented by such a case.

The obligation on the court to pursue all possible avenues to the resumption of direct contact had been made clear in Re S [2004] EWCA Civ 18, in particular the words of Thorpe LJ that '[w]hatever the difficulties, however scant the prospects of success, the courts must not relent in pursuit of the restoration of what had been a natural relationship between father and daughter, absent compelling evidence that the welfare of the child requires respite'. However, the judge had not had this or any other authorities in mind, since the advocates had not come to court anticipating a trial.

Accordingly, the CAFCASS officer was directed to meet again with the child to enable her to complete her enquiries, with a view to submitting a further, fuller report to the county court.

Read the full text of the judgment here