About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Interim Removal / Separation

Lady Justice Black further considered the issue of interim removal in L (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 489. In this case the mother and her baby had already been separated for a period of 2-3 months as a result of a decision which was the subject of challenge. The mother was in prison and wished to care for the baby in the prison mother & baby unit. The local authority were clearly of the view that the mother would not be able to care for the baby in the long term although it did not argue that there would be a short-term risk to the child on the unit.

The court referred to the earlier summary of the relevant principles to be applied in Re G-R (see yesterday's post).

Black LJ held that the court was in principle entitled to take account of the fact that the mother & baby had already been separated and that the mother's wish would entail the child being removed from a foster placement in which he had settled, with the prospect of being separated from the mother in due course, if the local authority's pessimism was well-founded. However, here the District Judge had fallen into error in concluding that the child's emotional safety would be compromised because of the disruption in moving between placements and the likely effect on the proceedings being effectively stayed causing delay before long-term decisions could be made. Black LJ did not consider that these points about emotional harm were captured by the authorities on interim removal / separation.

57. In saying that an interim care hearing was not the place for an evaluation of the longer term position, I am not saying that the district judge had to decline to look at the possible outcome of the final hearing at all. He was required to manage the case procedurally and for that purpose he was entitled, I think, to make a provisional evaluation of it on the evidence assembled so far and needed to do so in order to determine how the case should proceed thereafter. As he recognised, he needed to keep a firm control over the proceedings and had to ensure that in so far as possible the timetable for the proceedings did not get in the way of A's timetable. I agree with counsel for M that the way in which he could properly have minimised the impact of delay on A was to schedule an early final care hearing, rather than taking decisions at the interim care hearing which in my view came perilously close to prejudging the outcome of the case. Depending on the complexion of the evidence by that stage, that early final hearing would provide an appropriate forum for consideration of whether the prospects of M successfully caring for A herself were so poor as to leave no alternative to the making of a final care order or whether there was sufficient optimism to justify a further postponement of the decision or the making of some order which would permit continued exploration of the possibility that A might live with her.

58. In addition to the poor prognosis, as he saw it, for M's case and the delay to the plans for A that would result from the need to test out her good intentions when she came out of prison, what influenced the district judge here was the harm that would be caused to A by disrupting the attachment that had begun to grow between him and the foster parents in order to place him with M now and the chance that A would be subjected to further moves later on.

59. I would not dismiss such disruption to A's attachments and his settled living arrangements as irrelevant but it had to be put into the balance alongside the other factors that were relevant to the district judge's decision and accorded the weight that was appropriate given the Court of Appeal guidance on the use of interim care orders. It may be argued that it is not essential from A's point of view that he goes to live with M now because he would be able to transfer his attachment to her later on if a placement with her were later to be approved by the court. However, looking at the matter from a different angle, there can be little doubt that if M is to have the best chance of caring for him, she needs to have the opportunity to get to know A as soon as possible and to form a bond with him. She was with him for a matter of days only, in the hospital immediately after he was born. He will have been developing rapidly since then and the once monthly contact which the local authority arranged thereafter would not enable M to build up a relationship with him to serve as a foundation for care of him in the future and thereby to improve his chances of being able to live with her.

60. In the short term, there was no danger to A's safety, physical or emotional, in the prison unit and it was inappropriate, as I have said, to class the longer term issues as a danger to A's emotional safety of the type contemplated in the authorities. Accordingly, in my view, the relationship of A and M should have been preserved pending a final adjudication of the issues in the care proceedings. Concern as to delay should have been addressed by making arrangements for this final adjudication to take place promptly rather than by foreshadowing its determination by the making of an interim care order which kept M and A apart. It is for these reasons that I was in favour of allowing the appeal and substituting an interim supervision order for the district judge's order.

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