A mother has won her appeal against a court ruling that she had failed to protect her children from non-accidental injuries inflicted by her partner
The Court of Appeal heard that the mother had a four-year old daughter from a previous relationship and twins with her new partner. The evening after the daughter had visited her father, the mother noticed that she had a lump on her head and bruises on her face and body.
The mother took her to see a doctor even though her partner tried to dissuade her from doing so.
The doctor informed her health visitor and an investigation was begun to determine the cause of the injuries.
The girl said they had been inflicted by her step-mother. However, she was known by the family to tell lies.
The local authority began care proceedings on the basis that all four adults were possible perpetrators. The mother separated from the partner before the final hearing.
The judge found that the daughter’s injuries had been inflicted by the partner, and that the mother knew or ought to have known that the bruising would be inflicted and so had failed to protect her.
She reached that conclusion because the mother had:
(a) failed to ask the partner what happened on the day her daughter returned from the contact visit
(b) failed to listen to her daughter’s maternal grandmother who, after the incident, said that the girl was frightened of the partner
(c) allowed the partner to return to the family home after a verbal altercation over a mark on the daughter’s neck several months earlier
(d) stayed in a relationship with the partner, despite being aware that several years earlier he had attacked the father with a bat and had a fight with another man.
The Court of Appeal overturned the ruling against the mother. It held that it could not be right to say that any woman who failed to separate from a partner who had been violent to adults outside the home was failing to protect her children, although in certain circumstances that might be the case.
Putting together the partner's behaviour in the home with his aggression on two occasions towards adult men outside the home did not go anywhere near supporting a causative link such that the mother ought to have known that he presented a physical risk to her children.
Courts should be alert to the danger of such a serious finding becoming a "bolt on" to the central issue of who caused the injury, or assuming too easily that if a person was living in the same household as the perpetrator, such a finding was almost inevitable.
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Case Citations:  EWCA Civ 159 RE L-W (CHILDREN) (2019) CA (Civ Div) (Sir Ernest Ryder, King LJ, Coulson LJ)
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