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Court of Appeal – split hearings aren’t to be used for ‘whodunnits’

Not their exact words, you understand.

These are their exact words:-

 

  1. The hearing at the end of which the findings were made was what is known as a ‘split hearing’ i.e. a hearing limited to a discrete issue of fact without a full analysis of the welfare context. Counsel for the parties before this court acknowledged that the decision to have a split hearing which was taken by a different judge when different advocates were involved cannot have been right given that the issue to be decided was perpetration in the context of an incident of harm, rather than whether the harm occurred.
  2. It is unnecessary for this court to do other than refer to the clear guidance on the point that has been firmly and repeatedly given by this court but just as repeatedly ignored, see for example In the matter of S (A Child) [2014] EWCA Civ 25 at [27] to [31]. There is no discrete issue that would determine the proceedings in a case like this where harm has been suffered and the perpetrator of that harm is unknown. The social work assessments of those in the pool of potential perpetrators may cast important light on the allegations that are to be determined and upon the reliability of those in the pool and the other witnesses and materials that are available

 

Re BK-S (children) (Expert evidence and probability) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/442.html

If you were wondering which appeal judge was standing up for Lord Justice Ryder’s lead decision in the little-loved Re S (a child) 2014 which effectively banished split hearings for anything other than the most serious case (even though split hearings were invented by the Children Act advisory committee and endorsed by the House of Lords)… well, you aren’t really wondering that, are you?

 

[If you are, then I would like to talk to you about my new business opportunity, where investors get to buy tonnes of gold for the price of grammes of gold. This gold will be all yours when the Sun enters its supernova phase.  The price of gold will likely to increase all the time that your investment is maturing, making this an even more profitable venture. It really is a once in a lifetime investment opportunity]

It is an interesting case in itself, a 6 month child who had been administered (by an adult) doses of an anti-psychotic medication over a period of time. It was established by toxicology reports and medical evidence that the child had been given this drug, Olanzepine, and that it had caused him significant harm. The only real issue was whether it had been given by father, mother or paternal grandfather.

 

The parents were separated, and thus there was quite a clear log of who had been caring for the child on particular days. And the expert called (and then re-called) was able to give quite detailed accounts about how the test results showed the level of Olanzepine, and how Olanzepine has a half-life  (i.e if someone takes 100 milligrams of  X time, there would be say 50 milligrams, and after 2X time, 25 milligrams, and so on), such that calculations can be done to work back from the level to calculate when the drug was taken. Or in this case administered.

The difficulty was that all of that information on half-life is based on adults. For a child of six months, the half-life might be different. It might react more quickly, or more slowly, or have greater symptoms.  The reference to Tanoshima here is the name of a study – both are on single children, because obviously there are ethical medical issues on giving anti-psychotics to 100 infants to see how quickly it comes out of their system.

 

  1. When Professor Johnston was recalled on 28 May 2014, the following oral evidence was adduced:

    “Q. [..] There are two reported studies. One that says a half life is 11.6 hours in a 28 month old child. The other one is 13.72 hours for a child of 17 months.

    A. Yes.

    […]

    Q. Can we safely assume – and I mean with almost certainty – that the half life of [Z] would have been less than 21 hours?

    A. I think that would be a reasonable assumption.

    Q. Yes. I think you also said in your previous evidence that it would be a reasonable assumption to take the 13.7 in the Tanoshima case as well?

    A. Yes.

    Q. Would that be right? So if I were for instance to take 18 hours, that would be safe as well?

    A. Yes.”

  2. The judge accepted the evidence that was adduced in the following passage in his judgment:

    “Professor Johnston agreed that to assume a half life between 21 and 13.7 hours would be likely, but that working on a half life of 18 hours in those circumstances would be safe.”

 

On reading that, I can instantly see the appeal point. If the half-life was taken by the Judge as being probably 18 hours, but between 13.7 hours and 21 hours, and that took one person OUT of the pool of perpetrators and made it more likely than not that the other person administered the drug, then an alternative reading of the evidence given might be

“So it is very difficult to be sure of the half-life of Olanzepine in a child of this age, because the research deals with only two children, and both are much much older. It would be unwise to place reliance on hard and fast numbers to resolve this problem”   (my words, but I guess that’s what counsel had been driving at with those questions)

The Court of Appeal considered that the Judge had not been wrong to follow the expert evidence and to make the finding that Olanzepine had been administered to the child on a date when mother had been in hospital with the child and father had not been present – thus that the mother had been the person who administered the drug to him.

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.
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