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(Coventry County Court; HHJ Bellamy; 18 May 2007)
Since the separation of the parents, 9 years previously, there had been at least one court hearing relating to the child in every calendar year. The mother had complied with the court orders regarding contact, including staying contact, although the father did not always take up the visiting contact ordered, but over the years only limited contact had been ordered because of concerns about the child's emotional welfare in the father's hands. The father had made it clear that he would continue to approach the court until he was granted the level of contact that he judged was right for the child; he was hostile not only towards the mother, but towards CAFCASS, the judges and the system. Four s 91(14) orders had been made against the father; at the expiry of each the father had made a further application to the court. The child was now almost 11 years old and had been the subject of ten reports under Children Act 1989, s 7, and of 30 court hearings before 13 different judges. The father was currently seeking increased staying contact. Both mother and father appeared without legal representation. The father had always refused to provide any child maintenance, arguing that the mother had cheated him in the divorce settlement.
The case was illustrative of many of the current concerns about the way the courts dealt with intractable contact cases. The lack of judicial continuity had been distinctly unhelpful. Family Proceedings Rules 1991, r 9.5, concerning the separate representation of the child, should have been invoked much earlier, given that this was clearly an intractable case; the lack of legal representation had obvious disadvantages. The separate representation of the child at this hearing had at last lead to the court receiving considerable assistance from a well-prepared hearing bundle and chronology. The father was not a victim of the system; the victims were the mother and child, both of whom had been exposed to abusive manipulation of the system by the father, with the deliberate intent of causing anxiety and suffering to the mother, with a total disregard for the risk of damage to the child. Unless there were substantial changes on the father's part then his behaviour would continue to cause the child emotional harm in the future. The father was completely unable to meet the child's emotional needs. The court discharged the order for staying contact, reduced visiting contact to once a month (to reflect the father's actual take-up of visiting contact), amended the prohibited steps order preventing either parent from taking the child abroad so that it applied only to the father; and made an order under s 91(14) that the father make no further application for any order under s 8 without the permission of the court until the child was 16 years old. The judge reserved all future applications to himself, in the interests of judicial continuity, and expressed special thanks to NYAS and the NYAS appointed guardian for their care and thoroughness.
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