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Family analysis: A case determining the care plans for seven children offers practitioners useful guidance on how advocates and judges can approach pre-trial preparations to the good of all sides. Lucy Hoare, solicitor with Hecht Montgomery, and Mark Twomey QC of Coram Chambers, address a case offering clear lessons.
Re N-S (Children)  EWCA Civ 1121,  All ER (D) 184 (Jul)
The judge's decision to approve care plans for adoption and in making final care placement orders in respect of four children had been deficient due to the absence of consideration, within the judgment, of long-term fostering and contact between the children and their parents. The Court of Appeal held, however, that the absences of those topics within the judgment had been understandable and had not represented a material irregularity in the overall conduct of the proceedings.
What was the background to this case?
Lucy Hoare (LH): There were care proceedings concerning seven children heard by HHJ Wilding in the Watford Family Court. The central allegations were neglect and emotional harm. The appellant was the father of the youngest four children. Threshold had been agreed and the parents agreed the care plans in respect of the eldest three children. A nine day final hearing took place at which the parents continued to seek the return of the youngest four children to their care. The local authority, supported by the children’s guardian, sought care and placement orders which HHJ Wilding went on to make.
What was the subject of the appeal?
LH: The father accepted that in respect of the three youngest children there was no prospect of a return to the parents care. The appeal was essentially a ‘reasons’ challenge in respect of two related questions, as outlined in the judgment. Firstly, what is the extent of a Judge's responsibility to provide reasons in support of orders made at the conclusion of public law children proceedings? Secondly, where there has been a failure to give reasons, but there can be no challenge on appeal to the substantive orders made, what steps, if any, should the appellate court take to redress the lack of adequate reasoning?
What did the court decide and why?
LH: The appeal was dismissed. The central complaint of the father was that HHJ Wilding had spent most of the judgment going over the evidence he had he
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