H-L (Children: Summary Dismissal of Care Proceedings) [2019] EWCA Civ 704 (17 April 2019)

This Court of Appeal Judgment relates to an Appeal made by the Local Authority against the decision of HHJ Wicks dismissing a Care Application at an interim stage, despite arguments by the Local Authority and the Guardian.

The initial Care Application related to two children, one of which had been found covered in bruises.  Upon examination at hospital by a Paediatrician, it was concluded that it was highly likely that the bruises had been causes non-accidentally.  During the course of the proceedings it was initially accepted and recorded that the threshold had been crossed.  At the hearing on 01/11/18 however, the relevant date for proving the threshold could not be agreed.  HHJ Wicks therefore suggested that the threshold had not been crossed and that the Application should be dismissed.  A hearing was listed for legal arguments and at that hearing, submissions and representations were made, with Counsel for the Local Authority stating that if the proceedings were dismissed then there would have been no determination of the issues.

On 7th December the Judgment was given, with the proceedings being dismissed.  The Judge considered that the relevant date for determining the threshold was 23rd August (the date of issue) and at that time the children were not suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm.  The decision had been made due to the delay by the Local Authority in issuing proceedings and also due to the child doing well in the father’s care.  The Judge also accepted the argument by the father that if the mother wished to resume care of the children, then these would be Private Law proceedings.

In considering the Appeal of the Local Authority against HHJ Wicks’ decision to dismiss the proceedings, Lord Justice Peter Jackson considered the case of Re S-W [2015] EWCA Civ 27, the authoritative guidance in determining Public Law proceedings.  It was concluded that HHJ Wicks should not have cast doubt on this analysis and should have cautioned himself on making a decision which did not have the support of the Guardian.  Lord Justice Jackson stated that the threshold was plainly crossed in the proceedings, given the injuries to one of the children, which could have been caused by one or the other of her parents.  The Court of Appeal therefore set aside the previous Order dismissing. The case was remitted to another Judge for directions to be given for a hearing to determine the causation of the child’s injuries.

The full judgment can be read here.

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