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(Court of Appeal; Wall LJJ and Holman J; 25 October 2007)
In care proceedings the judge had found that the father was responsible for serious assaults on two of the four children; subsequently both parents faced serious criminal charges relating to assault and cruelty. The judge granted the parents disclosure of certain care proceedings documents for the purposes of the criminal proceedings. However, the judge refused the parents' application for orders permitting unidentified experts to interview the children, and also an application for permission for the parents' solicitor in the criminal proceedings to interview one of the (apparently) uninjured children, with a view to taking a statement from her, which might or might not be used in those proceedings. The judge noted that the uninjured child had nothing to contribute to the case.
On the evidence before the judge, it had been correct not to allow the children to be examined by unspecified experts, however, if the parents could for good reason and with an identified expert return to the judge with a well-presented and coherent case explaining why they required a particular expert to examine the children for a particular and specified purpose, an order might be forthcoming. The judge should have granted permission allowing the parents' solicitor to interview the uninjured child; the child might well have something to contribute to the case if she were interviewed and were thought to be reliable. In any event, that was a matter that it was proper for the parents, in the context of their defence of criminal charges, to seek to do. Whether or not the child gave evidence was an entirely different question, and would be a matter for the judge hearing the criminal trial. There had been some uncertainty as to the nature of the jurisdiction being exercised by the judge, but the existence of an inherent jurisdiction to determine matters of this kind was clearly established.
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