October 11, 2018
The High Court recently considered the case of YZ v Leicester City Council & Ors  EWHC 2262 (Fam) in relation to the father’s (YZ) application under s.39 of the Children Act 1989 for a discharge of a care order for his four children made in December 2016. The application was contested by the local authority and the Children’s Guardian.The need for the care order arises from the continuous conflict between the parents post-separation and the father’s strong negative views towards the mother and his “point scoring” approach to her. The children were subsequently placed in a long-term foster care. Consideration was given at the time to the long nature of the care plan and the risks associated with the children remaining in care, nevertheless the placement was deemed to be in the children’s best interests. In considering whether to discharge the care order, the court had to decide whether the father had made sufficient changes that would warrant the return of the children in his care. The father stated that he had accepted responsibility for his approach and behaviour and the harm he had caused to his children. He further argued that he had now made sufficient changes which enable him to meet the needs of the children and as such the care order should be discharged and the children returned to his care. The court acknowledged that the father had indeed made significant progress by obtaining employment, securing accommodation, completing counselling and working on improving and changing his views towards the mother. The Children’s Guardian and Social Worker reports concluded however that the father would not be able to meet the children’s needs. Particular concerns were raised about the father’s ability to work openly and co-operatively with the local authority and other professionals. The local authority and the Guardian were also of the view that despite his assertions, the father’s approach and views towards the mother have not changed and as such a risk of conflict remains. Despite the significant improvements made by the father and the wishes of the eldest child to return to his care, it was not accepted by the court that the father had made sufficient changes to meet the children’s needs. It is worth noting that in delivering the judgment Keehan J sets out 10 specific reasons for his decision. The application was dismissed on the basis of the father’s continuing strong hostile and negative views towards the mother manifested during the local authority assessment. Keehan J further considered whether it would be appropriate for the court to make an order under s.91(14) of the Children Act 1989, also known as a ‘barring order’, for the purposes of preventing the parties from making further applications without the leave of the court. Barring orders are generally considered to be ‘draconian’, given the restrictions they impose. While the court did not consider it appropriate to make such order at this stage, it was noted that if further unmeritorious applications are made, it is “very likely” that the court will use its discretion to make a s.91(14) order.
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