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Father’s negligence claim against Cafcass dismissed

Claim for breach of Article 8 rights also dismissed

In F-D v Cafcass [2014] EWHC 1619 (QBD) a father has failed in his claim for damages against Cafcass. His claims were founded upon alleged negligence, misfeasance in public office, and breach of his right to a family life under article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights and under the Human Rights Act 1998.

The claim arose out of a dispute between the claimant and his former wife over residence and contact with their now 16-year-old son, R. The claimant claimed that as a result of the negligent advice and support given by Cafcass and, in particular, its duty officer at a hearing in early 2009, the court made an order which effectively deprived him of continuing contact with his son. The father contended that thereafter Cafcass failed to attend a directions hearing and failed to take timely steps to prepare a welfare report which he argued would have supported his claim for contact. The claimant made a formal complaint to Cafcass. He said that as a result of the delays, both in the preparation of the report and in the dealing with his complaint, coupled with delays by the court, he lost heart and withdrew his application for residence and contact.

HHJ Bidder QC, sitting as a deputy High Court judge, found:

"[T]he conduct of Cafcass was always directed to ensuring that the best interests of R were achieved and, on a secondary level, to attempt to achieve a resolution of the dispute between the mother and father. This is a case as far distant from misfeasance in public office as it is possible to get and I am surprised that the defendant did not apply to strike out the allegation in the particulars of claim."

As for the claim for breach of the claimant's article 8 rights, the judge said:

"[T]he consent order and the court's overall control of the proceedings meant, in my judgment, that it is not arguable that any actions of the defendant caused a breach of the claimant's article 8 rights.
"Had I found that the claimant's article 8 rights had been breached I consider that the ... maximum period of loss of contact is just over 3 months and I judge that the sum of £3,500 would be just satisfaction for any breach. However, as I find no breach, I award no damages and I dismiss the claimant's claim."

The judgment is here.