Re A (Letter to a Young Person) (Rev 1)  EWFC 48
Family Court, 26 July 2017, Peter Jackson J
The child, aged 14, lived with his mother and stepfather, with regular contact with the father. The father wished to take the child to live abroad (Scandinavia) and the child said that he wanted to go. Being competent to give instructions, he instructed his own solicitor and the matter reached High Court judge level because the original application had been made by the child. The application was then taken over by the father.
An issue arose as to whether the child should give evidence at the hearing. He wanted to do so, and was supported in this by the father. The mother, stepfather and the Cafcass officer disagreed, suggesting instead that the judge should see the child privately. The judge concluded that the child should give evidence briefly at the beginning of the hearing but that he should not be questioned directly by either of the parents. Instead each prepared five questions which, after the solicitor had asked the child five introductory questions, the judge put to the child himself.
The child explained to the court that he had long wanted to live in Scandinavia and that he could see himself living there with the father, but that if that didn’t happen he wanted to go back to spending alternate weeks with each parent. He said that if the father went to Scandinavia without him, he would be extremely unhappy. Giving his evidence in this way took less than half an hour, after which the child left court and went on a school trip for the rest of the week, which was what the child wanted. The court then heard evidence from the three parents and the Cafcass officer.
The father had provided no information at all about where he and the child would be living if they moved to the specific Scandinavian country in question, or about where the child would be going to school, how the finances would work and what arrangements would be in place for the child to keep in touch with family and friends in England. He appeared to have made no enquiry about houses, schools or jobs. The child did not speak the language and had not been there since he was 5 years old. The father himself had not been there for over 10 years.
At the end of the hearing, the court gave its decision in the form of a letter to the child, which the judge read to the parents and gave to the child’s solicitor to give to him and to discuss with him when he returned from the trip. The judge asked the parties for their views about whether the letter, amended to protect the identity of everyone in the family, should be published as a conventional judgment would have been. The response from the child, the mother and stepfather and from the Cafcass officer was that it should be published; the father was very strongly opposed to publication, but did not explain why.
The High Court judge dismissed the father’s applications (and therefore also the child’s original applications) and made a s 91(14) order restricting further applications without permission.
Dealing with the child’s position in this way meant that the child himself was satisfied that he had got his point of view across, and had been seen to do so, and that he was not subject to direct questioning by either parent.
The court dismissed the father’s applications to take the child to live in Scandinavia, explaining that its view was that the child had brought the proceedings mainly as way of showing the father how much the child loved him and mainly to meet the father’s needs, not the child’s needs. The child was to have a holiday of one week in the second half of August this year with the father, to be spent at his home unless both parents agreed that it was going to be spent somewhere else. The father was required to write to the mother no later than 1 September to inform her whether or not he would be moving to Scandinavia alone and, if so, when. If he wrote that he was going to be moving (or did not write at all), contact would remain as it was: i.e. alternate weekends from Friday evening to Sunday evening. Once the father left for Scandinavia, contact (face- to-face and by phone/Skype etc) would be as agreed between the parents. If the father wrote to the mother to say that he was not going to be moving, contact was to increase a little, broadly in line with the recommendations of the Cafcass officer.
The court made an order under s.91(14) of the Children Act that no further applications concerning the child could be brought before the court by anyone, including the child, without the Designated Family Judge giving permission. This order was to run until 1 September 2019, so after the child’s GCSEs..