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Re F (Children) [2006] EWCA Civ 792

Appeal against an order reinstating contact with Father, where allegations of sexual abuse had been made, is allowed.

Court of Appeal: Hedley LJ, Thorpe LJ, Moses LJ (18 May 2006)

Summary
Appeal against an order reinstating contact with Father, where allegations of sexual abuse had been made, is allowed.

Background
This case concerned the Father's application for contact with two of his children. F had a number of other children by different relationships. The focus of the trial was a series of allegations that the Father had sexually abused two of his own children, one of whom was subject to these proceedings, and other children who were friends of his children. The Judge made an order reinstating contact. The Judge found that none of the allegations were proved. The Mother applied for permission to appeal arguing that his reasoning was so inadequate that no one knew why the judge had decided what he did.

Judgment
Held, allowing the appeal, that the judgment was so lacking in reasoning and substance that it presented an appearance not to have engaged fully with the important issues in the case. The Court considered the judgment was wholly deficient in explanations as to how or why the court arrived at its conclusions.

Whilst the Court ought to assume that an experienced judge knows what he has to take into account the Judge had an obligation to determine the three issues of fact and provide a reasoned explanation as to why he had concluded as he did. Hedley LJ was concerned with the absence of explanation as to why he disbelieved two of the children in relation to one of the allegations. There was a question of whether there were inconsistencies in the children's evidence and the Judge did not deal with the matter. Further the Judge used the expression that although the Father was essentially credible, his credibility had been dented. However he did not explain this statement or the implications of his finding.

In addition the Judge had made adverse findings against the Father's inappropriate communications with some of the children, but did not consider the implications of that behaviour in relation to the other allegations. Hedley J highlighted that if a person had behaved with some sexual intent, in relation to some children, it lowered the weight of evidence required to overcome the inherent improbability of his interfering with another child. Hedley LJ found it impossible to work out whether the Judge had accepted that the children had made the allegations alleged, whether the allegations were consistent with the evidence, and why the evidence was not capable of sustaining the allegation. The overall impression created by the inadequacies in the judgment was that it was insupportable in form in which stood.

The Court considered it had two options: i) to invite Judge to amplify reasoning, which was considered difficult for Judge after such a length of time; ii) Retrial.

Appeal allowed and matter remitted for retrial.

Read the full text of the judgment

Digest prepaerd by Lynsey Cade-Davies