The four year old child had weekly contact to her father after her parents separated, such contact taking place at a contact centre but including an outing on foot lasting one hour outside of the centre.
It was at a third set of contact proceedings that the CAFCASS officer expressed concerns about father’s attitude towards the mother. This was in the context of a previous conviction for rape and a subsequent accusation of rape, leading the CAFCASS officer to report that a psychological risk assessment should be carried out.
The CAFCASS officer did not recommend an increase in contact until that assessment had been considered. The District Judge directed that the assessment should be completed but the father failed to attend, and the application was dismissed by the Judge.
The father then appealed to the County Court and the Judge again ordered that the psychological risk assessment should be carried out, and that thereafter there should be a final hearing. However in the interim, the Court ordered that contact should be at a contact centre but allowing the father to take the child out for 2½ hours. Again the father failed to submit for the assessment and the mother then appealed against the provision allowing the father to take the child out of the contact centre for 2½ hours of the contact. The mother also sought to have findings made that she denigrated the father set aside.
The Court of Appeal held that the extension of the interim contact order should not have taken place before the psychological assessment had taken place. This was particularly in circumstances whereby the Court had specifically found that the assessment was necessary before contact should be increased.
The Court further held that when findings (or what appeared to be findings) were made, they influence the subsequent course of the case, so it was necessary that all findings were made properly. The Court of Appeal specified that if a judge is making provisional observations, that those observations should be clearly identified as such. In this case, the ‘findings’ had been made without evidence from the parties and would therefore be set aside.
The mother had such anxiety about the father’s attitude, and therefore about the risk of contact taking place outside the supportive environment of a contact centre allowing the father an opportunity to expose the child to emotional harm. A similar concern had also been expressed by the judge, who therefore directed the psychological assessment take place to address this. The Court gave such a direction but then immediately made an order allowing most of the contact to take place outside of the contact centre. The Court of Appeal found that this decision was wrong.
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