Thanet mum’s horrific Family Court experience features in Channel 4 Dispatches investigation

The mum won her right to appeal the family court ruling

A Channel 4  investigation will include the experiences of a young Thanet mum who was left sobbing after family court judge HHJ Richard Scarratt made “wholly inappropriate comments” during a contact hearing.

Dispatches investigation Torn Apart: Family Courts Uncovered will be screened on Channel 4 next Tuesday (July 20) at 10pm.

A two year investigation was carried out by the team to reveal what goes on behind closed doors in the family courts. The programme includes shocking personal testimony, footage of children being forcibly removed from safe, loving homes at midnight and the results of a questionnaire of family court users and family lawyers. #

Reporter Louise Tickle asks what changes are needed and whether judges should be held to account.

 

One of the cases included is the Thanet mum who was one of four at the centre of a  landmark hearing  concerning domestic abuse cases in the family courts. The hearing was attended and reported on by Louise Tickle.

The Thanet mum won her appeal after the presiding judge at her original case was heavily criticised for his ” wholly inappropriate comments” and attitude.

The young mum’s case centred around her child and a contact agreement with the father which the Royal Court of Appeal accepts she did not make freely.

Her appeal to the Royal Court was against the ruling made by HHJ Richard Scarratt on 5 August 2019 which resulted in a consent order setting out time to be spent between the father and the child.

The mother’s representation said the judge was wrong to make an order by consent when there were unresolved allegations of serious domestic abuse, including rape. The appeal highlighted ‘wholly inappropriate comments’ made by HHJ Scarratt during an earlier hearing in March 2019 where the mother was threatened that: “if this goes on the child will be taken into care and adopted’.

During the appeal court hearing a tape of proceedings was played to judges, President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lady Justice Eleanor King and Lord Justice Tim Holroyde, where the mum could be heard sobbing following the judge’s comments.

In the Judgement issued by the Royal Court of Appeal on March 30 it says: “The judge’s unguarded comments, made to the mother, not only to have her child taken from her but to have her adopted and, on two further occasions, to refer the case to social services, have to be regarded as having had long lasting repercussions for her.

“It is clear that the parties were discussing settlement before they came into court in August 2019; that was hardly surprising given the appalling litigation history and the judge’s attitude towards the mother as demonstrated in March. It is hard to see how the mother, faced with the prospect of a hearing in front of the same judge, would have felt herself to have retained any real negotiating boundaries about contact.

“ One can understand that the mother may have felt that she had little option but to settle, particularly given the judge’s opening remarks questioning the point of a fact-finding hearing and his refusal to hear the allegations of controlling and coercive behaviour.

“It is with reluctance that we reach this conclusion. It is well known that judges sitting in the Family Court are, and have been for some considerable time, over-worked. There was good reason for the judge to express frustration that none of the essential case management preparations for the hearing had been undertaken.

“There was however no justification for the judge to say that ‘if this goes on the child will be taken into care and adopted’. Nor was there any justification for the judge twice referring to the possibility of reporting the case to social services.”

The hearing in January at The Royal Court of Appeal – the second highest court in operation –considered how four family court cases, where rape, domestic abuse and/or coercive control allegations were involved, were dealt with.

Three of the cases were upheld for appeal and one case was not determined.

The Court of Appeal also gave guidance that old fashioned views about controlling and coercive behaviour are no longer acceptable in the family court and that judgments that fail expressly to consider the relevance of coercive control may be appealable.

As a direct result of the Court of Appeal review the Judicial College is developing new training covering the impact of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and the guidance given at the appeal court hearing.

The Dispatches programme producer Anna Hall said of the investigation: “What’s driven all of us is trying to tell stories we are not legally allowed to tell.

“We hope that in making this film the light will be shone into places where there is no public scrutiny – thousands of people going through the Family Courts every year are gagged.”

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