The judgment in the case of Re W (children) (2010) EWCA, which can be accessed here, was handed down by the Court of Appeal on 9 February 2010. It involved a case brought on appeal by an appellant father following a county court judge’s refusal to allow his 14 year old step daughter to be called to give evidence at a finding of fact hearing within care proceedings. She had alleged serious sexual abuse by the father and the matter is the subject of criminal proceedings.
It will be of particular interest to practitioners providing evidence to the family court or involved in the care or treatment of young people who are the subject of proceedings. Where allegations of abuse are made, practitioners need to be familiar with what processes a young person may be involved in outside of any NHS interventions.
The Court of Appeal looked carefully at the case law and relevant non-statutory guidance relating to this area. Whilst they upheld the decision of the county court judge, the court was of the view that it is now appropriate that consideration be given to the approach of the court with regard to children and young people giving evidence. The starting point currently is that it is considered undesirable for children to give evidence in care proceedings and that particular justification will be required before that course is taken.
The court has referred this matter to the President of the Family Division for consideration, including suggesting a possible referral to the Family Justice Council. This may result in updated guidance about children and young people giving evidence in care proceedings/the family court.