In the Croydon Family Court
9 May 2023
District Judge Keating
- I am faced with an application for a prohibited steps order and a specific issue order in respect of Child A, a boy, born on 11 October 2015. His father is the applicant. He is represented by Ms Warner, a barrister. The respondent is Child A’s mother, who is represented by Mr Imoh, a solicitor. The Court has a bundle containing evidence prepared by Father which has been amended on 2 May 2023. The mother has not had the opportunity of preparing evidence yet. Ms Warner argues that I should make a prohibited steps order and a specific issue order requiring the return of Child A to the care of Father so that Father can then arrange for Child A to live with a lady called Mrs N.
- The evidence before me is that, on a number of occasions leading up to 8 February 2023, Child A has alleged that he was raped by his older half‑brother, Child B. Child B is Mother’s son but not Father’s son. Child B and his older sister, who is now an adult, Ms C, ordinarily live with Mother. The police and Social Services have been involved. Social Services chose not to implement a child protection plan even though it seems to have been the recommendation of most of the professionals present at the initial child protection conference that there be a child protection plan. Instead they implemented what they call “a robust child in need plan”.
- Child B was made the subject, I am told, of bail conditions including bail conditions that he must not contact, directly or indirectly, Child A, and he must live at Mother’s address. I am told by Mr Imoh that Child A currently lives with Mother and has done so since 5 May but Child B does not live at her address: Child B has lived with her niece, a Ms D since 5 May and that the police and Social Services were told of this arrangement. However, there is no evidence about any of those matters. I have heard no oral evidence today and I have made no findings of fact.
- The first thing that cries out for, in this case, is gatekeeping. The Court shall send the application to the East London Family Court at Westferry for gatekeeping. I shall suggest to the gatekeeper that the case be allocated, that safeguarding checks be secured and a FHDRA listed once the Local Authority report which I will come to in a moment is available. The second thing that this case is crying out for is a section 37 report by the London Borough of Croydon. The Court shall send this order to the London Borough of Croydon today and the London Borough of Croydon is invited, urgently, to assess the current caring arrangements for each of Child A and Child B; to ensure that the bail conditions for Child B are complied with and that Child A is adequately protected from harm. Accordingly, I am going to have that sent to Social Services today. I hope that Social Service will, very urgently, investigate the circumstances.
- Turning to the prohibited steps order application. What the Court has already done, because part of Father’s concern was that he had a communication from Mother saying that she was travelling to Italy, and he thought that was with Child A, is that the Court had ordered that Child A could not be removed from the jurisdiction. That order will stay in place. When one considers the written evidence, Father says to the Court, in his evidence, that he is not currently in a position to be able to care for Child A. In those circumstances, it is extremely strange to be asked to make an order that Child A be in Father’s care when Father is not in a position to care for him. That is, as Ms Warner candidly acknowledges, really, a device to enable the father to get Child A to the care of Ms N.
- Ms N is either Child A’s godmother or Mother’s godmother. In any event, she is a close family friend and she has, on the evidence before me, been closely involved in the caring arrangements for Child A up until, at least, 2 April. That was the arrangement in place with the agreement of Mother, Father and Ms N and was brought to an end, unilaterally, on the evidence before me, by Mother. Between 2 April and 5 May, Child A was, I am told, cared for by a sequence of people. First of all, Mother’s mother in another part of London and, secondly, her niece, Ms D.
- All of that needs to be investigated. I am not persuaded that a specific issue order or a prohibited steps order should be made at this stage given the uncertainties there are. What is needed is an urgent examination of the circumstances as they currently apply by Social Services and a report pursuant to section 37. I then, arrange for there to be what is called a “First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment” to be listed. It seems to me that Social Services do not need eight weeks to prepare the section 37 report. They are already thoroughly involved in this case. They are not coming to this from anything like a standing start. They have already got a child in need plan, they have done assessments, they are fully aware of the circumstances, so, I am going to give them four weeks to do so. Accordingly, four weeks from today will take us to 6 June. Therefore, by 4.00pm on 6 June, we will have the section 37 report and that means we will have a First Hearing Dispute Resolution listed as soon as possible thereafter.
- Those are the orders that I make today. An anonymised transcript of this Judgment shall be prepared at public expense and published for transparency purposes. The names of the advocates and the local authority may be retained, all other names must be anonymised.