One of the most anxious tasks performed by the family courts is to decide whether injuries suffered by children are non-accidental. The lengths to which they will go to uncover the truth were underlined by a case in which a baby boy was taken to hospital with unexplained skull fractures.
As a precursor to care proceedings, a local authority argued that the fractures were inflicted by the child’s mother. Following a fact-finding hearing, a judge reached no conclusion on the cause of the older of the two fractures, on the basis that to do so would be to enter into the realms of speculation.
The judge found that the more recent fracture had been caused by the anxious and stressed mother, in the context of a sudden loss of control, or alternatively that she had left her baby, then just 15 weeks old, unattended in the company of his older brother whilst she prepared a bottle of milk in another room.
After the mother challenged those conclusions before the High Court, the council agreed that the appeal should be allowed. That was on the basis that, by reaching a conclusion that there were two potential explanations for the injury, the judge had failed to make a sufficient determination of the facts to enable decisions to be reached in respect of the boy’s future care.
Although the judge had, at the parties’ request, sought to clarify her apparently ambiguous ruling after handing it down, the Court noted that fresh evidence had emerged since the hearing in support of her alternative finding. A complete rehearing of the matter before a different judge was therefore required.