A Reminder: The Family Court can and should ensure protective measures are in place for vulnerable parties
Date posted: 16 December 2021
The case of M (A Child)  EWHC 3225 (FAM) highlights how important it is for vulnerable parties to be properly protected by the Family Court. It relates to an appeal made on behalf of the mother following a Fact-Finding Hearing.
The mother alleged that she was a victim of domestic abuse and that the father raped her on numerous occasions throughout their relationship. The trial judge rejected each of the mother’s allegations of rape and sexual abuse. The trial judge found that the mother had set about making the allegations to malign the father and to support her position within proceedings.
The appeal judge granted permission to appeal and ruled that the absence of special measures either sought or implemented on behalf of the mother rendered the initial Fact-Finding Hearing unfair. The appeal judge stated that whilst the mother was fully represented throughout the proceedings the obligation was on the court to consider the vulnerability of the mother. It was for the court to ensure that the relevant protective measures were in place even if no party asked for them. The appeal judge said that this particular case “cried out” for participation directions and a Ground Rules hearing, not just to protect the mother but also for the integrity of the court process.
The appeal judge also made insightful comments concerning domestic abuse cases more broadly. The appeal judge stated that it was so important for there to be careful consideration with regard to vulnerability. She noted that a vulnerable person may not act in the same way as someone more independent or confident if they have potentially been exploited or abused in a relationship. A more vulnerable individual may be so anxious for the relationship to succeed that they accept treatment that others may not. The individual may be easy to exploit, and may not even realise what is happening to them and may cling to the dream of a happy family and relationship. The Family Court should be alive to these issues and if any party is particularly vulnerable, it is for the court to ensure that appropriate measures are complied with.
The trial judge also wrongly relied heavily on the mother wanting to remain in a relationship with the father to justify her decision to reject a number of her allegations. The trial judge stated that the mother wanted to be in a relationship with the father, she tried to get him back when he rejected her, and that she engaged in sex with him after occasions when she said he had raped or abused her. The appeal judge commented that relying upon such actions, is a very unsafe premise upon which to base findings of fact, especially if the alleged victim is vulnerable or dependent as the mother was here.
This case demonstrates the importance of Judicial training regarding behaviours of vulnerable parties manifest and reiterates that there is a duty on the Family Court to ensure that they are supported.
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