False allegations in children cases
Date posted: 29 June 2016
Mr Justice MacDonald reminds us of the approach and legal framework to be followed by professionals when dealing with cases involving serious allegations of harm to a child.
Judgement delivered on 15th June 2016
The case concerned the mother of two children N and S and her application for findings against the father of S.
Historically, child N had lived with his mother and spent time with his father whereas child S lived with his father but spent time with his mother. The families resided in Scotland.
The mother took both children to England whilst they were in her care having formed a relationship with a man that resided there. She refused to return either child to Scotland. As a result S’s father issued proceedings in Scotland seeking the immediate return of S.
The mother sought to defend return by way of a series of allegations against S’s father including emotional, physical and sexual abuse in respect of both children.
Lengthy oral [including from a number of professional witnesses] and written evidence was presented to Mr Justice MacDonald in addressing the findings sought.
At the conclusion of the evidence the father, through his representative, advanced that he would now be seeking adverse findings against the mother for her ‘false allegations’.
It is fair to say that the evidence of the mother and her professional witnesses was vastly inconsistent, lacked substance and in places presented real forensic difficulties. On balance none of the allegations raised by the mother were proved.
As sought by the father, Mr Justice MacDonald did make findings that the mother has made false allegations. He emphasised the serious nature of such a finding referring back to Re W (A Child) :
“Given the prevalence of false allegations made by parents against each other in private law proceedings, conduct at this level by a parent should be understood to be serious child abuse that will usually necessitate intervention by a court’
Mr Justice MacDonald was critical of approach taken by the professionals in failing to remind themselves of the guidance in how to conduct such matters. The Judge in fact went so far as to find that the approach taken by some of the professionals ‘had materially prejudiced the welfare of both children’ and contributed to the emotional harm suffered. The list of failures is significant but includes a failure by the Social Worker to make her own enquiries independent of the mother’s account, failure of the police to retain accurate records, improper procedures adopted for interviewing the children, failure to properly coordinate professional intervention including the involvement of CAHMS who were also criticised for the extensive therapeutic work that had taken place in relation to unproven allegations.
Mr Justice MacDonald urges professionals to ensure that the following is considered and if appropriate:
- The Guidance in Re I-A (Allegations of Sexual Abuse)  2 FLR 837, Re H (Minors) and Re K (Child Abuse: Evidence) 1989 FLR 313 – cases which comment on the evidence prepared by professionals in proceedings and raising concerns over the quality of that evidence, emphasising the need for care to be taken and for a balanced approach to be adopted.
- The Cleveland Report of 1987 [ the report that was necessitated following poor practices of the Local Authority and medical professionals in dealing with allegations of abuse made by children]
- ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) Guidelines [ABE guidance requires interviewers to engage in multi-disciplinary planning; consider a wide range of factors when preparing for the interview; decide whether a psychological or psychiatric assessment of the child is required pre-interview, and consider how the content, structure and rules of the interview will be explained to the child]
- The joint investigative interviewing of Child Witnesses in Scotland guidance [ A practice guidance for police officers and social workers who are carrying out joint investigative interviews with children (aged under 16 on commencement of the initial interview).
- HM Government Guidance: Keeping Children Safe in Education (July 2015) and ‘What to do if you’re worried a child is abused’ published in March 2015. The guidance is non-statutory, and was been produced to help practitioners identify child abuse and neglect and take appropriate action in response.
Read the full Judgment here
Case note by
Wilson Solicitors LLP
22nd June 2016