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Reported Case

Court finds no evidence that parents failed to protect their child - LONDON BOROUGH OF X v M & ORS [2023] EWFC 171 (30 April 2024)

Date: 30/04/2024
Duncan Lewis, Reported Case Solicitors, Court finds no evidence that parents failed to protect their child - LONDON BOROUGH OF X v M & ORS [2023] EWFC 171

Fordia Hakim was the mother’s (M) solicitor in a case involving serious allegations of inter-sibling sexual abuse between Y, aged 12, and Z, aged 9. Flowing from these allegations, the Local Authority (LA) sought findings that Y had perpetrated sexual and physical abuse against Z. In relation to our client, the LA also sought a range of findings, alleging that both parents failed to protect, supervise or guide the children adequately; lacked insight and acceptance; minimised, denied or failed to believe Z’s allegations; and minimised or attempted to deflect attention from criminal history relating to the boys’ older brother A.

At the conclusion of the fact finding, having considered all of the evidence, the judge did not find on the balance of probabilities that Y had perpetrated sexually harmful behaviour towards Z. In relation to our client, only minimal findings were made against the parents and the case proceeded to a final welfare hearing. The court found no evidence for the LA’s claim that the parents had failed to protect their child. 

This case is significant due to the many procedural failings regarding the LA’s investigation process. Throughout the judgement, HHJ Lazarus expressed his dissatisfaction with the Local Authority’s management of the case which resulted in a lack of reliable evidence that was available to consider. The judge went on to describe the overall picture as “extremely troubling and disappointing” and noted the apparent “systemic lack of appropriate training” for situations involving allegations of inter-sibling sexual abuse. 

HHJ Lazarus found that the social workers involved in this case had arrived at an early assumption about Z having clearly disclosed sexually abusive behaviour which they accepted and treated as true. This ‘culture of belief’, the judge acknowledge, impacted the social worker’s discussions with our client and F. The judge emphasised that the culture of automatic belief narrowed the insights of professionals and led to a lack of an open-minded approach that could look carefully at the parents’ perspectives.  The judge was concerned that social workers had expected the parents to believe Z’s allegations without question. Instead of being open to the parent’s worries, looking at the situations with ‘dispassionate curiosity’ in line with child protection principles, there was automatic belief centred on the inaccurate allegation of rape. HHJ Lazarus emphasised that this approach pushed the parents into a desperate position and they were not supported by the social work team to come to a careful understanding of how to take Z’s allegations seriously without losing sight of Y’s needs.

In light of the concerns raised through the judgement, HHJ Lazarus invited the parties to draft a list of issues for the LA to consider to address a number of issues about its handling of the case as a positive problem-solving exercise. These issues included the Local Authority's response time, the need for an experienced social worker to be in attendance, a review of the training of first-responding social workers, and greater attention to management oversight of decision-making in care proceedings.

Additionally, HHJ Lazarus provided a number of observations postscript about the treatment of Y by the police. The concerns included that Y’s arrest did not differ to the arrest of an adult, no allowance was made for his status as a young child, he was held in an adult cell, he was initially denied a basic need to have a drink of water, there was little consideration given to his welfare needs balanced against the needs of the investigation.

The case serves as a useful learning point for professional working within the child protection system. The list of issues proposed by the court offers a constructive pathway for the LA to address procedural shortcomings and improve their handling of similar cases in the future.

Read the full case here: LONDON BOROUGH OF X v M & ORS [2023] EWFC 171

Andrew Bagchi KC and Sima Kothari were instructed by Forida Hakim for M in this matter.

About the Author

Fordia Hakim , Director of Family and Child Care, is recognised as a Recommended Lawyer in The Legal 500 for her specialism in all aspects of public law children, care proceedings and private law proceedings. Forida is a member of the Law Society Child Panel, and is therefore viewed as an expert in this field with significant experience in children care proceedings.

The ‘exceptional’ Family & Child Care team at Duncan Lewis Solicitors dispenses advice on the full spectrum of family law matters, with a particular emphasis on international child abduction cases, special guardianship orders, and wardship issues. Our solicitors have broad knowledge spanning surrogacy issues, adoption cases and financial proceedings, and is described in The Legal 500 UK independent legal directory as "particularly adept at acting for children in public law care cases." The Family team has extensive expertise in advising on forced marriage and female genital mutilation matters, and a great deal of experience in handling high-net-worth divorces, cohabitation agreements, non-molestation injunctions, and care and emergency protection orders.

If you require specialist support from our Family & Child Care team, please contact Forida Hakim via email at foridah@duncanlewis.com  or via telephone on 02079238440


Find full details of this case on Bailii’s website here.
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