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Family Law

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04 FEB 2014

SPLIT HEARING: Re S (Split Hearing) [2014] EWCA Civ 25

(Court of Appeal, Tomlinson, Ryder, Christopher Clarke LJJ, 24 January 2014)

Care proceedings took place in relation to a 12-month-old child who suffered a serious head injury involving two skull fractures and associated brain haemorrhage and swelling. The local authority alleged it was a non-accidental injury inflicted while in the care of the parents. At a fact-finding hearing the judge concluded that while the child suffered significant harm while in the care of the parents, neither of them had deliberately inflicted that harm.

The local authority appealed on the basis of an untranscribed exchange following judgment in which the judge was alleged to have discounted accidental injury. The appeal was dismissed. The local authority case was misconceived. There was no inconsistency in the judge’s findings that the parents had not deliberately inflicted the injury and that the injury was not accidental. The judge was not plainly wrong in his findings and his reasoning was sufficient.

The background problem in the case was a failure of the parties to identify the key issues for determination and how those issues should be determined. It was not clear why a split hearing was directed and it was an inappropriate way of dealing with the necessarily inter-related issues of fact and welfare. The use of split hearings had to be confined to cases where there was a stark or discrete issue to be determined and an early conclusion of the issue would enable the substantive determination to be made more expeditiously in accordance with Part 1 of the FPR 2010.

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