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EK (A Child) [2020] EWFC 25

This is a judgment of Mostyn J following a contested hearing, conducted by Skype for Business, in care proceedings. Threshold was found to be crossed. The dispute centred on the welfare analysis and final care plan for EK, a baby born in 2019. Care and placement orders were made.

EK's mother had a troubled past, which included being in care herself and having been subject to care proceedings as a teenager. EK's mother and father had two children (only one of whom was the biological child of EK's father) removed from their care in 2016 and 2017. These children have subsequently been adopted by the same adoptive parents. The adoptive parents, whilst not in a position to adopt a third child, made clear that they would promote, if a placement order was made and subject to the views of the adoptive parents of EK, sibling contact. Mostyn J found this an advantage material to his decision.

The relationship between mother and father was beset with domestic abuse and controlling behaviour on the part of the father. Following EK's birth an interim care order was made, the plan being for EK to move with her mother to a mother and baby foster placement. Mother and EK were later moved to supported accommodation on the strict understanding that mother would keep the baby away from father. In August 2019 EK was removed from her mother's care following receipt of evidence that the parents were in contact with one another. After signing a written agreement, which included not taking EK to stay anywhere overnight without the LA's agreement, mother engaged in some 'truly reckless' behaviour, including becoming involved with another man who posed a risk to her and to EK.

During the proceeding assessments were conducted by the LA, and and ISW in respect of father. The Local Authority and EK's Guardian were of the view that EK's welfare required the making of Care and Placement Orders. The parents argued, in essence, that the 'end of the road has not been reached' and that they should be afforded the opportunity to show that they are fit to raise EK.

The final hearing was listed to commence on 24 March 2020, the previous day having been allocated for judicial reading. The Prime Minister announced the national lockdown on 23 March, by which time Mostyn J had already ordered that the hearing should proceed by Skype for Business. The hearing involved five witnesses giving evidence, including one who was based in Scotland. Mostyn J says this at paragraph 5 in respect of the hearing:

'I am very grateful to the solicitor for the local authority, Shamima Ali for setting up and testing the remote hearing which proceeded well. I am equally grateful to all the other lawyers for their diligent cooperation with the process. There were a few hitches, which I think were all referable to one of the locations having a poor Internet signal. However, the problems were all overcome. I heard evidence from five witnesses, one of whom was in Scotland. I had an excellent e-bundle which contained all relevant documents. Counsel were all able to make their submissions without a hitch. This is the second case in consecutive weeks which I have heard in this way. Plainly, for as long as this emergency continues this will be the only way in which the majority of cases can be heard. It is reassuring that notwithstanding the national shutdown the wheels of justice have been enabled to turn.'

Mostyn J agreed with the professional view of the Social Worker, ISW and Guardian and approved the final care plan for EK making final care and a placement orders.

Whilst recognising that there is a national emergency and that this may well mean there is a delay in matching EK with proposed adopters, Mostyn J was clear that this is not a reason for delaying the implementation process and 'it is not a reason for adopting a futile experimental adjournment.'

Case summary by Emily Ward, Barrister and Deputy Head of Family at Broadway House Chambers

Read the full judgment of EK (A Child) [2020] EWFC 25 on BAILII