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(European Court of Human Rights; 8 June 2009)
The eldest child alleged physical and sexual abuse by the father. The mother denied the truth of the allegations by the child and refused to separate from the father. Both parents agreed to voluntary care for the eldest child but obstructed social services working with the two younger children. All three children were taken into interim public care with no contact with the parents. After several months, on the basis of a further evaluation, permanent care orders were made in respect of all three children, with contact with the parents. The eldest child retracted some of the claims against the father, so criminal proceedings were dropped. The parents appealed the care orders. The appeal was dismissed on the basis that all three children had at some stage made allegations against the father. The younger children asked to go home, and the eldest child retracted all allegations. The order for public care orders was to end, however, an appeal by the social services was allowed and the public care orders were renewed. Public care was again terminated by court, which criticised the approach of the social services, and the social services did not appeal. The parents alleged breaches of Art 8.
The court noted that the parents had not exhausted the domestic remedies in respect of access restrictions, having failed to appeal some orders, and having failed to take all access opportunities offered. The social services had become involved in response to grave accusations by the child, which it had had to take seriously. It had good grounds to investigate the family and, given the family's response, to take all children into care. The evidence of the parents' interaction with social services and their failure to put the children's wishes first (including refusal to take up contact with the eldest child), was significant.
Held that the proceedings were fair. There was no breach of Art 8 rights in the public care orders, the imposed access restrictions had been intended to protect best interests of the children, and there was no violation of Art 8 in such restrictions.
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