Family Court at Slough evaluates credibility and evidence in abuse allegations: A Council v Mother of CA & Ors.

Citation: [2023] EWFC 274 (B)
Judgment on

Introduction

In the case of A Council v Mother of CA & Ors, the Family Court at Slough was tasked with the grave responsibility of determining various allegations of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse within a family context. The judgment, delivered by His Honour Judge Richard Case, centers primarily on the credibility of witnesses and the application of family law principles related to child welfare and protection.

Key Facts

The key factual matrix of the case revolves around two children, CA and CB, whose welfare is in contention. Allegations were made by CA, a daughter from Father (F)‘s previous relationship, against her father and stepmother (MB), concerning multiple instances of abuse. The court meticulously considered the series of alleged abuses over an extended period, dating back to at least 2020. The judgment encompassed a spectrum of allegations including assaults causing physical harm, verbal abuse, and one severe allegation of sexual abuse by the stepmother.

Several pivotal legal principles and procedural guidelines underscore the judgment rendered by the court:

  1. Burden and Standard of Proof: Reflecting the tenets from Re B and Re L and M, the court underscored that the burden of proof lies with the applicant council and that the standard of proof is on the balance of probabilities.

  2. Fact-Finding Parameters: The court adhered to the principle that findings of fact must be based on evidence, not suspicion or speculation, and all evidence should be considered collectively rather than in isolation.

  3. Role of Expert Evidence: As highlighted in Re B (Care: Expert), expert opinions were carefully weighed against the totality of evidence, while the court remained the ultimate decision-maker, ensuring that reasons for any divergence from experts’ opinions were duly articulated.

  4. Credibility of Witnesses: The court carefully evaluated the credibility of witnesses, including the children and their parents. The potential for lying and the reasons behind it were analyzed, with consideration given to the R v Lucas direction calling for caution in inferring that a pattern of lying about some matters equates to lying about all.

  5. Interviews and Hearsay Evidence: The judgment gave due regard to the nature of ABE interviews following the guidelines provided in Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings. Hearsay evidence was admitted, but its weight was critically assessed based on several factors such as the time of the statement and motive to misrepresent.

Outcomes

The court’s methodical evaluation led to several specific rulings:

  • Allegation 1 to 4 concerning assaults from F to MB were partially proved, with the court finding that an assault occurred but not in precisely the terms alleged.
  • Allegation 5 was found proved regarding a prior occasion before January 2020 where MB assaulted CA causing a mark to her hand.
  • Allegation 7 was established, identifying an occasion on which F slapped CA with an open hand in February 2023.
  • Allegation 13 was supported; the court found that MB physically assaulted CA in mid-January 2023 by causing her to hit her head.
  • Allegation 14, which involved severe allegations of sexual abuse by MB, was found proved, occurring in the spring of 2019.

On the contrary, Allegations 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, which alleged regular verbal and physical abuse as well as threatening behavior, were not proved to the satisfaction of the court.

Conclusion

The judgment in A Council v Mother of CA & Ors represents a meticulous application of family law principles concerning child safeguarding, particularly in the often challenging milieu of proving abuse within a family setting. Faced with such complex factual circumstances, the court judiciously balanced witness credibility, expert testimony, and legal standards, ultimately weaving a nuanced portrait of the factual background and arriving at a set of carefully considered findings designed to protect the welfare of the children involved. The case stands as a testament to the Family Court’s fundamental role in safeguarding vulnerable children, even in the face of challenging and conflicting evidence.

[2023] EWFC 274 (B)

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