Family Judges Must Give Clear Reasons for Life-Changing Decisions

Family judges make life-changing decisions for both children and adults on a daily basis, and it is fundamental that they give clear and intelligible reasons for their rulings. The Court of Appeal resoundingly made that point in a case concerning a mother who lost four of her children to adoption.

The mother had eight children in all, but the case had focused on the future of the four youngest, who were aged between seven and 15 months. There was no doubt that she loved them and, to her credit, she had managed to care for her family for years, albeit with considerable support from the local authority.

Following the birth of the youngest child, however, the council took the view that the mother could no longer cope and that the children were suffering emotional harm and neglect in her care. In granting adoption orders in respect of all four children, a judge found that they were particularly vulnerable and required more than good enough parenting. No amount of therapy, instruction or support would enable the mother to provide the level of care that they required.

In challenging the judge’s decision, the mother’s lawyers pointed out that, after setting out the evidence and the opposing arguments, his reasoning extended to only seven paragraphs. No reason at all was given for his conclusion that the children should be adopted, rather than be placed in long-term foster care.

The Court accepted that the reasons given by the judge were deficient. However, in dismissing the mother’s appeal, it noted that it did not follow that he had fallen into error or reached the wrong conclusion on the evidence. The justification for adoption was clear and flowed from the judge’s more detailed findings. The reality was that adoptive placements were available for the children and their lifelong welfare demanded that they should be taken up.

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