A Thanet mother who is one of four at the centre of a landmark hearing concerning domestic abuse cases in the family courts, had been ‘threatened’ by the presiding Judge and told her child would be taken into care and adopted if her case went ‘on and on’, the Royal Court of Appeal has been told.
The young mum, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had sobbed as Judge Richard Scarratt issued the threat.
An audio recording of the leading family court Judge’s remarks made in March 2019 was played this week to appeal judges, President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lady Justice Eleanor King and Lord Justice Tim Holroyde
The case was being outlined at the Royal Court of Appeal – the second highest court in operation –in a review considering how four family court cases, where rape, domestic abuse and/or coercive control allegations were involved, were dealt with.
The Court of Appeal Judges retired yesterday (January 21) and will now consider their findings which could see previous rulings overturned and lead to an overhaul of family court proceedings.
Amanda Weston QC, representing the Thanet mum, said ‘inappropriate’ comments from the Judge made the young mother “fearful” and she was pressured to accept a child contact arrangement with the father of her young daughter at a later hearing in August 2019.
Ms Weston argued that the mum should not be bound by the consent order, giving the father unsupervised access to the child, because agreement was made in the fear she would have her child taken away if she did not comply.
She also highlighted that social worker advice had been for visits at a contact centre.
Ms Weston told the appeal court: “The court will be aware the judge in this case made a number of statements which we say were wholly inappropriate and as such were made to pressure mother and make her fearful for her and her child did she not agree with a consensual arrangement.”
Ms Weston also told the appeal court: “The judge had effectively accused the mother of being a drug addict and made allegations.”
The mother had tested negative for drugs, the appeal court was told, although admitted taking cocaine once, saying she was ‘coerced’ by the father.
The appeal court was also told Judge Scarratt had failed to consider red flags raised in terms of safeguarding which included three separate females making allegations of sexual assault against the child’s father, including one of “ inappropriate sexual relations with a patient – who was 16- at a mental health clinic where the father was working at the time.” He was later dismissed from his role.
Ms Weston said failure to consider the mother’s rape allegations in light of the sexual assault claims was one issue that led to an ‘error in law’ in the order made by Judge Scarratt.
Teertha Gupta QC, representing the father at the appeal hearing, said his client denied the allegations and police had not prosecuted for rape, He said his client made counter allegations concerning domestic abuse and the mother’s mental health due to her being prescribed anti depressants while in the relationship with him.
However, he admitted Judge Scarratt had been ‘outspoken’ at the March 2019 hearing.
Ms Weston said more safeguarding fact finding by the court and the resources available to it should have been made, adding: “There were red flags with regards to this child’s safety and the court wasn’t right to ignore them.”
She later said the mother was not trying to stop contact but wanted it carried out safely
Mr Gupta said both mother and father had made complaints of domestic abuse and the “court has a duty to try and promote the family life.”
He said his client had not seen the child for one year and said: “Allegations are made, months go by with no contact, that’s changing the burden of proof… we say too much emphasis on allegations rather than drilling down and seeing how relevant they are.”
Mr Gupta disputed that Judge Scarratt’s contact order was wrong saying: “How can it be said this decision is wrong; yes he said a number of wrong things in March, I cannot accept some of the things the learned judge in March (said) in this day and age, but how much did it affect the mother in August?”
Sir Andrew McFarlane said Judge Scarratt’s remarks were of “significant concern” but this did not necessarily mean the contact order should be set aside.
Family courts are bound to consider under Practice Direction 12J whether a child is at risk due to abuse in a relationship and apply this knowledge when making orders for child access. The child’s grandmother previously told The Isle of Thanet News this practice direction is being ignored in the courts and says allegations of rape within a relationship are being brushed aside.
Following the appeal hearing Victims Commissioner Claire Waxman says she will now push for amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to make sure family courts are ‘safe and trauma informed.’
The appeal Judges findings on the cases is expected in two to three weeks time. This could lead to a number of prior cases being overturned.
The last time issues relating to marital or partnership rape were examined as part of the family courts was some two decades ago.
The proceedings were covered throughout the three days by journalist George Julian and can be found on twitter @GeorgeJulian