Appeal Allowed - Tim Weatherhogg
Tim Weatherhogg has recently completed a children case in the Court of Appeal in London. This case was a private law contact proceedings between the Father of a child, the Mother of a child and her Husband. An Order had been made by a District Judge in Exeter after 3 long days of evidence. The Father appealed successfully with a higher judge setting aside the original District Judge’s decision and imposed a different conclusion without conducting a full evaluation process. Tim, acting for the Mother, then appealed to the Court of Appeal in London - the appeal was allowed.
The proceedings concerned a young child. The Father’s original application was for parental responsibility and contact. This was strongly opposed by the Mother and her Husband. Sadly the Husband was unable to have children and although it had been proposed that the child’s Father would act simply as a sperm donor, the child’s Mother and Father commenced a sexual relationship and the child was conceived naturally.
At the initial hearing, the District Judge placed a priority in looking at the child’s needs and the wish to achieve and maintain stability in the family unit. The Judge held that contact between would be incompatible with maintaining such stability and dismissed the application for contact and paternal responsibility. The Judge did however make a Declaration of Paternity under s55A Family Law Act 1996 to confirm parental status of the Father.
The child’s Father, unhappy with that approach, appealed the decision. The higher Judge heard evidence and made findings of facts about recent events and allowed the appeal concluding that the original Judge's process and order were flawed and should be set aside. This Judge on appeal also formed the provisional view to make a direct contact order for a phased introduction to enable the Father to see his son and joined the child as a party to the proceedings and appointed a Guardian for the child.
This was unacceptable to the Mother who complained to the Court of Appeal in London. The Judges allowed the appeal and referred the case back to the Bristol High Court for further consideration. In summing up, the Court of Appeal Judges said that the higher judge had not been wrong to allow the appeal against the District Judge's decision but Lord Justice McFarlane held that 'it is one thing to decide that the District Judge had been erroneous in the process that he adopted and set his conclusion aside. It is completely a different matter to impose a different conclusion yourself as the appellate court without going through a full evaluation process'. It was said that the higher Judge in the initial appeal had failed to conduct his own welfare examination in relation to the child and his future contact with his Father.
Mr Weatherhogg has been involved throughout the case and commented whilst in London:
“…despite the Children Act being in force for over 20 years – we all need reminding of just how crucial the Welfare Checklist is. Too often we would hope to try and pick and chose which aspects of the checklist suit the Mother or Father more than others however the reality is that in all cases and especially with a very complex case like this it clearly shows the need for everyone involved to consider all aspects of the Welfare Checklist. It has been a challenging case for all concerned and not least the judiciary who have seemingly grappled with the same until now”.
The case continues…