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Posts Tagged ‘non accidental injury’

On Monday Panorama showed a report on the journey through the family courts of a family accused of causing serious non-accidental injuries to their baby son: ‘Parents’ Child Abuse Nightmare’. After lengthy police investigation and care proceedings no prosecution was pursued and a finding of fact hearing exonerated the parents, the Judge holding that there was no cogent evidence that causation of the injuries was non-accidental.

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It was a shocking story, perhaps more so for those who do not work in the system and have not been caught up in it in respect of their own families. On another level, for care practitioners like myself it was however in many respects unremarkable – although the case broke new ground in respect of issues concerning publication of judgments and the identity of experts the care proceedings themselves raised familiar issues and followed a well worn path. What was unusual in terms of the care proceedings was the total failure of the Local Authority to make out threshold.

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There were several predictable references to the secrecy of the system, though the system was not so secret as to prevent the programme from being made. The fact that permission had been given for the proceedings to be reported did not appear to attenuate the hyperbole about the cloak and dagger approach of the courts (In fairness though, the lengths to which the parties and the BBC had to go to get permission were not insignificant as can be seen from the number of citations which follow at the end of this post). (more…)

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The judgment in B (Children) [2008] UKHL 35, handed down today is of significant importance in care proceedings. The leading judgment by Baroness Hale of Richmond is compelling reading, as is the secondary judgment of Lord Hoffmann.

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Based on my first read-through of the judgment this evening the decision appears to amount to this:

  • the correct standard of proof in care proceedings is unequivocally the civil standard i.e. the balance of probabilities;
  • the ‘cogency rule’ (that the more serious the allegation the more cogent the evidence needs to be) should be laid to rest;
  • a finding of future harm cannot be founded upon a mere ‘real possibility’ of past harm – if there is insufficient evidence of past harm to satisfy the standard of proof the allegation remains no more than an unproven allegation and children should not be removed from their families on the basis of unproven allegations; .

I was struck particularly by Baroness Hale’s remarks about the distinctive roles of the court and local authorities (see pas 57-60 in particular): it is for local authorities to act on suspicions of harm by investigating and where appropriate initiating proceedings, but it is for the court to adjudicate upon the evidence and consider the child’s welfare based upon the conclusions reached about that evidence.

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I will want to read this judgment more thoroughly – there is a lot in it – but for now suffice to say that although it is lengthy it is also impressive, and has a good degree of clarity bearing in mind the difficult subject matter. I have linked above to the judgment on Family Law Week – no doubt a full summary of the case will appear there before I can hope to do it proper justice.

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Update: Laws of Love has helpfully provided a more detailed summary than I have found time to do: here.

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Shaken Babies

Last night Panorama featured the case of Keran Henderson, convicted of the manslaughter of Maeve Sheppard by violent shaking. Unfortunately I managed to catch only part of it but the programme clearly covered an important and controversial topic – shaken baby syndrome.

Although the programme included footage regarding apparently credible evidence that suggests that shaken baby syndrome simply does not exist – that is to say that the violent shaking of a baby cannot produce enough force to cause the types of injuries with which it is associated (brain and retinal bleeding) – it is apparent from the BBC article linked above (and probably from the section of the programme that I missed) that the research in question has yet to be peer reviewed or indeed even published. We will have to wait and see what its significance really is, but if this research is correct it will probably not just be Keran Henderson who launches an appeal.

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And either way it is not just Keran Henderson and her friends and family that this affects. I have perhaps been more conscious of this case than I would otherwise have been because those involved live so close by to my home.

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