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Judge ‘denied man’s rights in contact proceedings’

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a judge was wrong when he dismissed legal proceedings in which a father was trying to establish his right to have contact with his two children.

The father suffered from bi-polar disorder and needed medication to stabilise his condition. In the past he had sometimes failed to take his medication and this had led to violent episodes involving both the children and their mother.

The couple eventually separated and the children continued living with the mother. He applied for a contact order so he could see his children and during the ensuing proceedings he admitted that he had been violent to the mother and the children.

He was then due to attend a fact-finding hearing but applied for an adjournment because his psychologist had advised him that he was not fit to give evidence.

The judge noted that this was a particularly important hearing because the father was due to be cross-examined about his past violent episodes. He refused to grant the adjournment because he decided that the father’s case had no chance of succeeding as the children did not want to have contact with him and it would not be in their interests to delay the proceedings any further.

However, the Court of Appeal has now overturned that decision. It held that the judge should have focussed only on the issues in front of him and not on matters that would be examined later. By totally dismissing the case he had denied the father’s right to a fair trial.

It was also true that the father’s case was not entirely hopeless because the eldest child had said that he might be prepared to see him under strict supervision and would probably want to bring his younger brother along as well.

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