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Re G (A Child) [2005] EWCA Civ 896

Grandparents’ appeal against order placing granddaughter in local authority care allowed.

Re G (A Child) [2005] EWCA Civ 896

Court of Appeal: Ward, Keene and Longmore LJJ (14 July 2005)

Summary
Grandparents' appeal against order placing granddaughter in local authority care allowed.

Background
This was an appeal by grandparents against the order of the judge placing their two-year-old granddaughter in the care of the local authority whose care plan was that she should be placed for adoption. The judge also dismissed their application for a residence and contact order in respect of the child.

The child's mother, who was the daughter of the grandfather by his previous marriage, had had a troubled upbringing. When the child was born, there were concerns about the mother's ability to cope, and the grandparents successfully looked after the mother and child until they were able to move into their own accommodation. Shortly thereafter, the mother told her social worker that she could no longer cope, and the child was taken into care and placed with the foster parents with whom she had remained ever since.

At the start of the care proceedings, the local authority arranged, without the court's prior sanction, for an assessment of the grandparents' parenting abilities by an independent social worker; the social worker concluded that she could not make a positive recommendation that the child be placed with the grandparents, and identified 'six key factors' that influenced her conclusion.

Giving judgment at the end of the six-day hearing (spread over six weeks), the judge concluded that the grandparents' case was wishful thinking, based on three factors: (1) they could not demonstrate a history of good and successful parenting; (2) the prospect of the mother accepting that her parents should have the care of her child was very unlikely; and (3) the grandfather's ex-wife could not be 'a real partner' in the upbringing of this child.

Further, after judgment had been delivered, the judge contacted the guardian's solicitors to say that he was aware that there were issues he did not deal with in his judgment and, if there were any particular issues that anyone wished him to deal with specifically, they should let him know and he would then provide reasons.

By this appeal, the court needed to consider whether the judgment met the 'essential test' identified by Thorpe LJ in Re B (Appeal: Lack of Reasons) [2003] EWCA Civ 881, namely: 'does the judgment sufficiently explain what the judge has found and what he has concluded as well as the process of reasoning by which he has arrived at his findings, and then his conclusions?'

Judgment
Held, allowing the appeal, that the judgment failed the test in Re B: the process of reasoning by which the judge arrived at the essential findings of fact could not be clearly understood, nor exactly what facts he placed in the scales of judgment. In such an important matter as the permanent removal of a child from her family, fairness not least to the child demanded more clarity of reasoning than the judge gave in this case.

A further reason for allowing the appeal was that the judge's main conclusion that the grandparents' poor parenting made them an unacceptable risk as carers for the child was directly in conflict with his findings that he could not decide the extent to which their care of the three children in their household did fall below an acceptable standard. By reason of the judge's failure to subject the independent social worker's report to proper critical scrutiny, the grandparents unsurprisingly felt that they had been unfairly assessed.

Accordingly, the matter would be remitted to be reconsidered by a judge of the High Court.

Read the full text of the judgment here