Judge's extraordinary change of mind

Posted: 25th June 2012

FamilyA judge's right to change his or her mind after announcing a decision is at the centre of an ‘extraordinary’ Court of Appeal case involving a young child who could be permanently separated from her parents.
The one-year-old girl was taken into care by social workers at Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council when she was three months old after being admitted to hospital with a series of unexplained fractures and bruises.
During care proceedings last year, Judge Jai Penna told a Family Court she believed the father had "snapped" under pressure and inflicted the injuries.
The judge said there was no evidence for her to conclude that the mother was a possible perpetrator. She added: "In my view, the pressures to which the father was subject were such that he cracked."
However, the judge handed down a written judgment two months later, saying she had "reconsidered her position" and now felt "unable" to rule out the possibility that the mother could have been responsible.
The mother, through her lawyers, is now challenging the judge's revised decision - arguing she gave no explanation as to why she changed her mind so drastically.
Three judges, sitting at the Court of Appeal (Civil Division), were told that the care proceedings are still on-going and that the local authority proposes further assessment of the father to see if the child can be returned to his care.
Lord Justice Thorpe, sitting with Lord Justice Rimer and Lord Justice Sedley, said that the case was "extraordinary" and reserved giving judgment on the mother's appeal until a later date.
Lord Justice Thorpe said: "This case is about the licence a judge has, or has not, to shift radically from position A to position B without any special development between announcing position A and position B."
The outcome of the appeal will have a crucial bearing on the mother's hopes of having her child returned to her care.