Laura Baines reported in Re X [2021] EWFC B85

I represented the Children’s Guardian in this case, which was in the grand scheme of cases we often deal with a long-running public law case [14 months] that had commenced as private law proceedings. It has been reported because the final orders included a restriction on the father’s parental responsibility due to his actions during the child’s life and the court proceedings.

The child at the time of judgment was aged 7, and had been subject to court proceedings for the majority of his life since 2015 when he was around a year old. It would come as no surprise that the theme for the child throughout his life had been one of conflict and disagreement between his parents and unwillingness to compromise in child arrangements meaning that the child’s welfare had been lost. This wasn’t placed at one parent’s door but rather was that both parents bore responsibility for this.

It was found by HHJ Black that the father’s poor behaviour had gone way beyond what could be considered acceptable or a proportionate response to him exercising his PR or ensuring that his PR was respected. His behaviour throughout was about pursing his agenda, his control of the situation and a wearing down of anyone until they agreed with him and if they did not agree with him they were subjected to rudeness, aggression and complaints.  It was apparent that when the child needed support whether that was through the CAMHS process or school, if professionals in the father’s view had not complied with statutory guidance or rules then he would refuse consent meaning that there would be delay in the child receiving the necessary support.

It was the mother supported by the Local Authority and Guardian who sought an order to restrict the father’s ability to exercise his PR in the light of the harm caused by his refusal to give consent, in particular, in relation to educational and therapeutic support and intervention.

It was apparent to HHJ Black that the father was the author of his own misfortune. He had in April 2021 the opportunity to equally care for the child under a 50/50 arrangement but he did not take it up.  Instead he blamed the reason for it not commencing being everyone else’s fault not his. It seemed that as soon as the father got what he wanted i.e. equality it wasn’t enough. He refused to take the child to school believing the child was not safe there and when issues arose and the school contacted him even over something as simple as a packed lunch he refused to deal with it so the mother had to step in.

There was no reflection by the father on the impact of his behaviour either on the professionals or on his son. There has been no insight into the effect on his son by preventing him from having access to therapeutic services, an EHCP plan, a referral to CAMHS or missing out on school trips. 

The Judge said it had been really disappointing hearing the father’s evidence and his inability to reflect on anything that has happened or start to accept any responsibility for it. His tunnel-visioned fight with the authorities and professionals has resulted in delays to the input of CAMHS, the preparation of the EHCP and the other supports that the school could have put in place for his son, which would have made his start to his school life much less problematic for him. His son has seen him challenge and be aggressive to schoolteachers and to his mother on many occasions and to the extent that on the 6th October he wet himself.

There were some restrictions on father’s ability to exercise his PR sought, which would otherwise thwart the efforts of the mother and professionals to make decisions about his son’s education and therapeutic support. The Judge agreed with this. The Judge said the father was fast running out of options and if the order did not work he needs to be aware that the court may then need to consider prohibiting any direct contact with him. The Judge would hope he would carefully reflect on this judgment and as a result she would hope that would not be necessary but enough is enough and the history of the last 6 years cannot continue.

An order was made for X to live with his mother and for the father to have supervised contact with his son once per month. The father’s application for a change of school was dismissed and the Judge confirmed X should remain at his current school.

The prohibited steps order sought by the mother and supported by the Local Authority and Guardian would have the effect of restricting the father’s exercise of PR. If such an order is necessary and following various drafts being considered the father proposes the following terms:

The Father cannot attempt to influence or be consulted about decisions regarding

  1. Any aspect of the child’s EHCP and review of the same; or
  2. The child’s involvement with CAMHS or any other therapeutic agency, and any therapy or work recommended by CAMHS for the child; or
  3. The child’s education insofar as his participation in any events or activities organised by or on behalf of the school;

If any school or education establishment, CAMHS and any agency which is contemplating providing therapeutic services with the child considers it not to be in the interests of the child for the Father to be so consulted or involved. The level of such consultation or involvement shall be at the sole discretion of that agency.

In the circumstances the Judge deemed the proposed wording a reasonable and proportionate interference with the Article 8 rights of the father and family. Those working or being asked to work with the father should be aware that the father has PR and that he wishes to be fully involved in decisions involving the child. The extent that that can be respected by them will depend on the conduct and behaviour of the father going forward and this order allows them to do so without the father’s engagement or consent. That decision is in their discretion.

It was the judge’s view that they should consider that as a result of the decisions now made that there should be a reset in their relationships, with the slate wiped clean and a fresh start and so a further attempt should be made by all to engage with and include the father in decision making for the child. If however, he has not reflected on this judgment and continues to seek to control all decisions concerning the child then they will no doubt decide not to include him in that process. If he continues to bombard them with communications and/or is demanding more and more information then they will no doubt decide not to include him in that process. If he refuses to attend or cancels meetings that he is invited to then they will no doubt decide not to include him in that process. If he is rude or aggressive to any professional then they will no doubt decide not to include him in that process.

The ball is firmly in the father’s court to make this work otherwise he will not be involved.