The judgment in B (Children)  UKHL 35, handed down today is of significant importance in care proceedings. The leading judgment by Baroness Hale of Richmond is compelling reading, as is the secondary judgment of Lord Hoffmann.
Based on my first read-through of the judgment this evening the decision appears to amount to this:
- the correct standard of proof in care proceedings is unequivocally the civil standard i.e. the balance of probabilities;
- the ‘cogency rule’ (that the more serious the allegation the more cogent the evidence needs to be) should be laid to rest;
- a finding of future harm cannot be founded upon a mere ‘real possibility’ of past harm – if there is insufficient evidence of past harm to satisfy the standard of proof the allegation remains no more than an unproven allegation and children should not be removed from their families on the basis of unproven allegations; .
I was struck particularly by Baroness Hale’s remarks about the distinctive roles of the court and local authorities (see pas 57-60 in particular): it is for local authorities to act on suspicions of harm by investigating and where appropriate initiating proceedings, but it is for the court to adjudicate upon the evidence and consider the child’s welfare based upon the conclusions reached about that evidence.
I will want to read this judgment more thoroughly – there is a lot in it – but for now suffice to say that although it is lengthy it is also impressive, and has a good degree of clarity bearing in mind the difficult subject matter. I have linked above to the judgment on Family Law Week – no doubt a full summary of the case will appear there before I can hope to do it proper justice.
Update: Laws of Love has helpfully provided a more detailed summary than I have found time to do: here.