Shiva Ancliffe acted for the mother in care proceedings that have spanned over 37 days and raised a number of issues in relation to how evidence is gathered and interpreted by the local authority in care proceedings.
The primary issue in this case was whether the father had remained in contact with the mother during these proceedings. There was a history of very serious domestic violence between the mother and the father and it was the mother’s case that the relationship had ended and she was not in contact with the father. The father refused to come court and participate in the proceedings.
The local authority’s case relied heavily on phone records showing numerous calls between the mother and a number they asserted belonged to the father. The father had periodically made phone calls to the social worker and the Children’s Guardian from this number, asserting that it was his. The father had been arrested by police and a phone containing a sim card with this number found in his possession.
However, the father was arrested for unrelated matter and later phoned the police from the same number while the sim card was still in the possession of the police and the phone records demonstrated that this number remained active during the period that the police had the sim card. The judge found that this suggested there were at least two sim cards, if not more, with the same number. The account holder for this number was not the father but a relative of the father’s and it was asserted on behalf of the mother that the number belonged to a phone kept at his house and used by his girlfriend to phone the mother.
The social worker’s analysis of the phone records was found to be unreliable and the social worker admitted in evidence that she had not personally conducted the analysis. The person who conducted the analysis was not called to give evidence and the judge found that the social worker had misled the court. The local authority did not obtain expert evidence in relation to the phone records and there was considerable dispute between the parties on how these records should be interpreted.
When the father periodically phoned the social worker, it appeared he knew details of social services’ involvement and on one or two occasions claimed to be in contact with the mother. The social worker relied this assertion as evidence he was in contact with the mother and that he was getting information about the case from the mother. However, the father’s credibility was highly questionable as he had made other statements to police and professionals that were shown to be false and contradicted himself in his correspondence with the social worker. The Judge also highlighted that the father had not attended court and the mother had not had the opportunity to challenge his assertions through cross-examination. The Judge criticised the social worker’s extremely superficial approach in this case, commenting that she had glibly accepted the assertions made by the father.
This case can be viewed as a warning to local authorities not to take evidence in support of their case at face value and to conduct a deeper analysis of the available evidence before the case comes to court. The local authority had the opportunity to call an expert witness to clarify the interpretation of the phone records and they didn’t. They had the opportunity to call the police officer who seized the father’s phone and they didn’t. The social worker had the opportunity to investigate the mother’s case that the number did not belong to the father but did not do this, leaving the mother’s case to be challenged in court. The Judge emphasised it is for the local authority to prove their case and in this instance, they failed.