Case Law Analysis: P v F Highlights Importance of Fair Trial Rights and Procedural Considerations in Child Arrangement Orders

Citation: [2023] EWHC 2730 (Fam)
Judgment on

Introduction

The recent case of P v F before the England and Wales High Court (Family Division) illustrates significant legal principles governing Child Arrangement Orders, the rights to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to respect for private and family life under Article 8 ECHR, and procedural considerations in relation to Section 91(14) orders of the Children Act 1989. This article provides an analysis of the key topics discussed and the legal principles applied within this case.

Key Facts

This case concerns an appeal by a father, P, against an order that provided for indirect contact only between him and his children. The original order was made at a Dispute Resolution Hearing, where the father believed his consent was not obtained for a final order and challenged the Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) report. Additionally, the order included a s.91(14) restriction, prohibiting further applications by the father in respect of the children for two years.

At the Dispute Resolution Hearing, the father expressed a strong desire for the case to be resolved. Still, he did not agree with the Cafcass report’s findings or recommendations. The father had hoped for a direct contact with his children as opposed to the judge’s directional no direct contact order.

Right to a Fair Trial (Article 6 ECHR)

The right to a fair trial is a fundamental principle in the UK legal system, as provided for by Article 6 ECHR. The court considered the fairness of the trial in its entirety, taking into account that a fair trial includes the right to present one’s case and evidence adequately and to challenge the evidence against them.

Right to Respect for Private and Family Life (Article 8 ECHR)

Under Article 8 ECHR, everyone has the right to respect for their private and family life. In decisions that could lead to interference in these rights, such as Child Arrangement Orders, procedural fairness is crucial. The court must ensure that decisions are made in a way that shows due respect to the interests protected by Article 8.

Section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 and Procedural Considerations

Section 91(14) allows the court to prevent further applications without its leave in respect of a child. The handling of such an order must adhere to natural justice, where the affected parties are fully aware of the application, understand the effect of the order, are knowledgeable of the evidential basis for the order, and have had the opportunity to make representations concerning it.

Dispute Resolution Appointment (FPR PD12B)

In this case, the role of the court during the Dispute Resolution Appointment under FPR PD12B was of particular importance. This involves identifying key issues, considering resolution, hearing evidence, and giving case management directions towards a hearing if necessary.

Outcomes

The appeal was allowed on all grounds granted permission. It was concluded that the judge had erred in making a final Child Arrangements Order at a Dispute Resolution Hearing without the father’s consent, contravening Article 6 ECHR and procedural protections under Article 8 ECHR. Additionally, the imposition of the s.91(14) order did not meet the procedural requirements and lacked a proper explanation in a judgment.

Conclusion

The case of P v F provides a clear example of the intersection of family law proceedings and human rights considerations under the ECHR. It underscores the importance of following proper procedural protocols, particularly when one party is unrepresented. A fair process is paramount in ensuring that child’s welfare is considered and that the rights of those involved in such proceedings are protected. This case will undoubtedly serve as a guide for future proceedings that involve Dispute Resolution Appointments and the imposition of orders under s.91(14) of the Children Act 1989.

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