In a decision which underlined the right of children to be heard in care proceedings, the Court of Appeal has ruled that a judge was wrong to prevent an articulate and bright teenager giving evidence in defence of her father, who was accused of sexually abusing her and her sister.
The 14-year-old girl was insistent that her father had done nothing improper and was willing to swear to his innocence. However, social workers and her court-appointed guardian were united in their view that she was ‘lying to keep the family together’ and that testifying in court would not be in her best interests. A family judge agreed and prevented her from entering the witness box.
In allowing the girl’s appeal, the Court found that both she and her father would be left with a justifiable sense of grievance if she was prevented from testifying. Whether or not she was telling the truth, the girl was capable of giving valuable evidence and her credibility could only be tested under carefully controlled cross-examination. She would be at risk of long-term emotional harm if denied the chance to give evidence on an issue of the utmost importance to her future.