Court of Appeal Upholds Findings of Sexual Abuse in J, P, and Q Care Proceedings

Citation: [2024] EWCA Civ 22
Judgment on

Introduction

The Court of Appeal (Civil Division) case J, P and Q (Care Proceedings) ([2024] EWCA Civ 22) centered around appeals from two parties against previously made findings in care proceedings that related to allegations of sexual and physical abuse by the father, F, and the failure of the mother to protect the children. The original proceedings involved the welfare of three girls, alongside the examination of historic allegations regarding another child not directly involved in the current proceedings.

Key Facts

The key facts of the case are:

  • The appeals contested findings made in care proceedings against the father, F, and the mother of the children.
  • Allegations against F included historic sexual abuse allegations originating from 2008 made by a child, B, from a previous relationship, and recent allegations made by one of his daughters, J.
  • Allegations against the mother included failing to protect the children from abuse and undermining one of the children’s credibility after she made allegations against F.
  • The children involved are three sisters, J (aged 15), P (aged 8), and Q (aged 2), with their older sister, Y (aged 17), involved in separate proceedings.
  • The initial court found evidence that F sexually abused B, based on an ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) interview from 2008 and subsequent statements provided by B in the current proceedings.
  • The same initial court found that F’s conduct of shaving J and Y’s legs was sexually motivated and that the mother had failed to protect her children from a potential risk of sexual abuse.

Family and Criminal Proceedings Distinctions

The judgment highlighted the importance of distinguishing between family and criminal proceedings. The principles of family law do not require self-directions used in criminal law on matters such as the impact of delay or a defendant’s good character. This distinction originates from the judgment in Re R (Children) (Import of Criminal Principles in Family Proceedings [2018] EWCA Civ 198), which clarified that the family court’s role is to establish facts for the future welfare of the children, not to determine the guilt of an individual based on criminal law standards.

Assessment of Evidence

The judgment reaffirmed that in family proceedings, the trial judge is not required to confront each piece of evidence or submission for their judgment to be adequate. It emphasized that judgments should show the principles and reasoning applied in reaching a decision without the necessity for exhaustive detailing, as asserted in Fage UK Ltd v Chobani UK Ltd [2014] EWCA Civ 5.

Good Character in Family Proceedings

The court dismissed the notion that evidence of F’s good character in the criminal sense could be directly imported into family proceedings. Although reputational evidence is relevant in assessing risk and propensity to commit sexual abuse, a distinct direction on good character, akin to criminal trials, was deemed unnecessary.

Evidential Challenges with Delays and Missing Evidence

The court examined the effect of a 15-year delay and the absence of some pieces of evidence from the original criminal trial. It concluded that there was no automatic rule precluding making a factual finding due to these issues, as long the remaining evidence suffices to satisfy the burden of proof.

Outcomes

The Court of Appeal upheld the original findings that F had sexually abused B and that his conduct around shaving his daughters was sexually motivated. It also affirmed the findings against the mother for failing to protect her children and her attempts to discredit her daughter’s allegations.

Conclusion

In J, P and Q (Care Proceedings), the Court of Appeal stressed the distinct tenets of family law and the discretion afforded to judges when evaluating evidence in care proceedings. The court decisively navigated the delicate balance between the rigors of evidence assessment, the need for judicial clarity, and the impact of delays, ultimately upholding the trial judge’s findings in a complex case of child protection. The judgment underlines the principle that the welfare of children is the paramount concern in care proceedings, transcending procedural and evidential parallels to criminal law.

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