A v A Health and Social Services Trust and E: In the Matter of M and T
The Court of Appeal
Coghlin LJ, Hart J and Sir John Sheil Hart J (giving the judgment of the court)
Delivered 4 July 2011
This case concerned an appeal from a decision by Stephens J in October 2010 in which he made an order under Article 50 of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 placing M and T (twins aged 2 years) in the care of the relevant Trust.
The unmarried mother, who lived next door to the father, had intellectual and attainment deficiencies and an upbringing in foster care. She had two older children who had been taken into care and freed for adoption. She viewed her role as that of a supportive parent, conceding that she was unable to care for the twins on her own. She supported the father's appeal and submitted that he had the capacity to be a carer for the children. She had engaged positively with the Trust, had positive relations with the foster carers and wanted her relationship with the children to be promoted if the court affirmed the care order.
The grounds for appeal
The father sought an order that the matter be reheard on the grounds that the learned judge had failed to give sufficient weight to the oral evidence given by the father at hearing and gave undue consideration and attached undue weight to the written evidence adduced at the hearing in support of the Trust's case. The case he now wished to make was that, at the hearing before Stephens J, he had been prevented from asking questions and that his legal team had not followed his instructions. He claimed that his legal team never explained to him at the High Court that he could require the social workers, who had prepared reports on behalf of the Trust as witnesses, to be called so that they could be cross-examined. The Court of Appeal felt it was essential that this matter be explored. It was therefore necessary to consider what had transpired at the hearing before Stephens J, to make reference to the content of the experts' reports placed before him and to refer also to the various steps which took place prior to that hearing.
The Court of Appeal hearing
Hart J noted that Senior Counsel (SC), who had appeared on behalf of the father before Stephens J, referred in a lengthy memorandum to the period between February and September 2010 when the case had been before Weir J on a number of occasions. The SC observed that Weir J was plainly anxious to see whether it was possible for the mother to be supported as the primary carer. He described Weir J's approach throughout this period as being:
'... that he would consider favourably any steps which could be taken to support [the mother] as the primary carer with help from a practical helpful adult and also support from [the father]. Despite this encouragement from the Judge, [the father] entirely rejected that approach--he asserted that the role of...