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02 OCT 2013

CARE PROCEEDINGS: Re Avon, North Somerset and Gloucestershire Public Law Case [2013] EWCC 4 (Fam)

(Bristol County Court, HHJ Wildblood QC, 20 September 2013)

His Honour Judge Wildblood QC released his judgment in this case in order to draw attention to how things had gone badly wrong. The mother was unable to care for her two children, aged 3 and 2, due to her diagnosis of dyspraxia and other limitations. The 3-year-old boy had lived with the maternal grandmother for the first 14 months of his life and during the proceedings. The 2-year-old girl had lived with temporary foster carers and had contact with the mother, her brother and maternal grandmother.

The local authority applied for care and placement orders while the grandmother applied for a special guardianship order in relation to the boy but she considered she would not be able to care for the girl as well. An independent social work report found that the grandmother's care of the boy was good although not optimal but during the hearing the local authority withdrew its opposition to the placement. Care and placement orders were made in relation to the girl with the consequence that the two siblings would, therefore, be brought up separately.

In total the case, which was by no means an unusual one, had taken 58 weeks to resolve and the siblings had been separated for that entire time. In those circumstances expedition had been essential. A fact-finding hearing was convened and abandoned shortly before it was due to start. Evidence had been inadequately gathered and medical evidence was inadequate for the enquiry of fact to be properly conducted.

The options for the children had not been fully identified at the start of proceedings, there had been far too much unnecessary expert evidence and local authority concerns were not substantiated by direct evidence. The sad upshot of the case was that the siblings would be brought up separately which would have significant implications for both of them. Proper and considered planning at the outset of the case could and should have mitigated this. 


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