Stop Press: The importance of sibling relationships

In Re N (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 656, the Court of Appeal allowed a brother to apply for contact for his sister in foster care.

The sister was subject to care proceedings. Both children had been trafficked into the UK. The brother was having limited contact with his sister in the community. The question was whether contact should be unsupervised. The view of the Local Authority and Guardian was that this could take place in the future. However, the brother sought unsupervised contact to take place immediately.

The issue arose as to whether the brother should have been given permission by the court to make an application within the care proceedings for contact with his sister. The brother’s application was refused on the basis that the issue was narrow and the court would consider contact overall when making its final decision.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal stating that the brother was entitled to be heard. In the lead judgment Lord Justice MacFarlane said ‘’ This was not an unimportant issue.  Whilst there was some acceptance of the principle of contact, the way it could go forward and indeed the very plan for S at that time in terms of her long-term care had not been settled.  Her brother is, on my understanding of the case, likely to be the most important person in S's life.  He has a view about contact and a view as to what contact is best for S”.

Of importance to the court, was the relationship between the siblings. Four grounds were submitted on behalf of the brother, all of which were accepted. The court stated “…standing back from those grounds, the big point is that this decision about contact between this young man and his 16-year old sister is important.  It may be one of the most important features, looking to the future, for young S.  The relationship with her brother and the ability to rekindle that relationship, it having been put in abeyance for some three or four years, is plainly important both now but, more significantly, for the future.  It will be but a moment before she is an adult and out in the community herself.  She is likely to need a real, live, ongoing, ordinary relationship with her brother.  That is what he wishes to achieve” (paragraph 26).

The case reiterates the importance of family relationships and the need to hear fully any arguments on contact in proceedings.