In re B (Children) (Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof) (CAFCASS intervening): HL 11 Jun 2008

Balance of probabilities remains standard of proof

There had been cross allegations of abuse within the family, and concerns by the authorities for the children. The judge had been unable to decide whether the child had been shown to be ‘likely to suffer significant harm’ as a consequence. Having found some evidence to suggest that sexual abuse had taken place, the judge had been concerned not to transfer the burden of proof.
Held: The House declined to depart from In re H and to overrule re M and R. The task of the local authority in carrying out an investigation differs from that of the court which is ‘to hear the evidence put forward on behalf of all the parties to the case and to decide, first, whether the threshold criteria are met and, second, what order if any will be best for the child.’
The balance of probabilities remains the sole and simple test and standard of proof. That test is not qualified by the seriousness of the allegation. The court should have instructed the expert that it ‘was not satisfied that the allegations were true, [and] they cannot form the basis for asserting that there is a current risk of the same type of harm occurring in the future.’ Inherent probabilities must be assessed in the light of the actual circumstances of the case.
Lord Hoffmann said: ‘If a legal rule requires a fact to be proved (a ‘fact in issue’), a judge or jury must decide whether or not it happened. There is no room for a finding that it might have happened. The law operates a binary system in which the only values are 0 and 1. The fact either happened or it did not. If the tribunal is left in doubt, the doubt is resolved by a rule that one party or the other carries the burden of proof. If the party who bears the burden of proof fails to discharge it, a value of 0 is returned and the fact is treated as not having happened. If he does discharge it, a value of 1 is returned and the fact is treated as having happened. ‘
and ‘the time has come to say, once and for all, that there is only one civil standard of proof and that is proof that the fact in issue more probably occurred than not.’
and ‘There is only one rule of law, namely that the occurrence of the fact in issue must be proved to have been more probable than not. Common sense, not law, requires that in deciding this question, regard should be had, to whatever extent appropriate, to inherent probabilities. If a child alleges sexual abuse by a parent, it is common sense to start with the assumption that most parents do not abuse their children. But this assumption may be swiftly dispelled by other compelling evidence of the relationship between parent and child or parent and other children. ‘
Baroness Hale of Richmond said: ‘if a judge finds it more likely than not that something did take place, then it is treated as having taken place. If he finds it more likely than not that it did not take place, then it is treated as not having taken place. He is not allowed to sit on the fence. He has to find for one side or the other. Sometimes the burden of proof will come to his rescue: the party with the burden of showing that something took place will not have satisfied him that it did. But generally speaking a judge is able to make up his mind where the truth lies without needing to rely upon the burden of proof. ‘ and
‘The threshold is there to protect both the children and their parents from unjustified intervention in their lives. It would provide no protection at all if it could be established on the basis of unsubstantiated suspicions: that is, where a judge cannot say that there is no real possibility that abuse took place, so concludes that there is a real possibility that it did. In other words, the alleged perpetrator would have to prove that it did not.’ and
‘the standard of proof in finding the facts necessary to establish the threshold under section 31(2) or the welfare considerations in section 1 of the 1989 Act is the simple balance of probabilities, neither more nor less. Neither the seriousness of the allegation nor the seriousness of the consequences should make any difference to the standard of proof to be applied in determining the facts. The inherent probabilities are simply something to be taken into account, where relevant, in deciding where the truth lies. ‘ and ‘there is no logical or necessary connection between seriousness and probability’

Lord Hoffmann, Lord Scott of Foscote, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Baroness Hale of Richmond
[2008] UKHL 35, [2008] 2 FLR 141, [2009] 1 AC 11, [2008] 3 WLR 1, [2008] Fam Law 837, [2008] 2 FCR 339, [2008] Fam Law 619, [2008] 4 All ER 1
Bailii, HL
Children Act 1989 31(2)
England and Wales
MentionedDavis v Davis 1950
. .
CitedBater v Bater CA 1951
The wife petitioned for divorce, alleging cruelty.
Held: It had not been a misdirection for the petitioner to have to prove her case beyond reasonable doubt: ‘A high standard of proof’ was required because of the importance of such a case to . .
CitedKhera v Secretary of State for The Home Department; Khawaja v Secretary of State for The Home Department HL 10-Feb-1983
The appellant Khera’s father had obtained leave to settle in the UK. The appellant obtained leave to join him, but did not disclose that he had married. After his entry his wife in turn sought to join him. The appellant was detained as an illegal . .
CitedIn re H and R (Minors) (Child Sexual Abuse: Standard of Proof) HL 14-Dec-1995
Evidence allowed – Care Application after Abuse
Children had made allegations of serious sexual abuse against their step-father. He was acquitted at trial, but the local authority went ahead with care proceedings. The parents appealed against a finding that a likely risk to the children had still . .
CitedHornal v Neuberger Products Ltd CA 1956
Proof Standard for Misrepresentation
The court was asked what was the standard of proof required to establish the tort of misrepresentation, and it contrasted the different standards of proof applicable in civil and criminal cases.
Held: The standard was the balance of . .
CitedIn re LU (A Child); In re LB (A Child) (Serious Injury: Standard of Proof); re U (A Child) (Department for Education and Skills intervening) CA 14-May-2004
In each case, the other parent appealed care orders where she had been found to have injured her children. In each case the sole evidence was the injury to the child’s health and expert medical evidence. The cases were referred following the . .
CitedClingham (formerly C (a minor)) v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; Regina v Crown Court at Manchester Ex parte McCann and Others HL 17-Oct-2002
The applicants had been made subject of anti-social behaviour orders. They challenged the basis upon which the orders had been made.
Held: The orders had no identifiable consequences which would make the process a criminal one. Civil standards . .
CitedIn re O and N (Minors); In re B (Minors) (Care: Preliminary hearing) HL 3-Apr-2003
The appeals were from conflicting decisions in care applications where one or other or both parents were guilty of lack of care, but there was no evidence to say which was responsible.
Held: The threshold criteria had been met, and the court . .
CitedIn re M and R (Child abuse: Expert Evidence) CA 21-May-1996
On an application for a care order the judge found there was a real possibility that sexual abuse had occurred but the evidence was not sufficient to prove the allegations to the requisite standard. The threshold criteria were met on another ground. . .
CitedRe P (Sexual Abuse: Standard of Proof) FD 1996
Wall J commented on the diffculties arising where an allegation of child abuse remained unresolved on the evidence: ‘It has also had the effect, in the instant case, of producing the worst of all worlds. The father remains under a cloud. Abuse is . .
CitedIn re D; Doherty, Re (Northern Ireland); Life Sentence Review Commissioners v D HL 11-Jun-2008
The Sentence Review Commissioners had decided not to order the release of the prisoner, who was serving a life sentence. He had been released on licence from a life sentence and then committed further serious sexual offences against under-age girls . .

Cited by:
CitedBirmingham City Council v Shafi and Another CA 30-Oct-2008
The Council appealed a finding that the court did not have jurisdiction to obtain without notice injunctions to control the behaviour of youths said to be creating a disturbance, including restricting their rights to enter certain parts of the city . .
CitedLancashire County Council v R (A Minor) and others FD 4-Dec-2008
The local authority sought a care order, alleging serious physical abuse of the child. The mother said that any injuries had been inflicted by the father. The father said that the cause was the mother.
Held: The injuries were not likely to . .
CitedCheltenham Borough Council v Laird QBD 15-Jun-2009
The council sought damages saying that their former chief executive had not disclosed her history of depressive illness when applying for her job.
Held: The replies were not dishonest as the form could have been misconstrued. The claim failed. . .
CitedIn re S-B (Children) (Care proceedings: Standard of proof) SC 14-Dec-2009
A child was found to have bruising consistent with physical abuse. Either or both parents might have caused it, but the judge felt it likely that only one had, that he was unable to decide which, and that they were not so serious that he had to say . .
CitedSavva, Regina (on The Application of) v Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Admn 11-Mar-2010
The claimant challenged the defendant’s policies on caring for elderly people within the community saying that it provided insufficient funds, and the procedures for review were inadequate and infringed her human rights. . .
CitedThe Solicitor for the Affairs of HM Treasury v Doveton and Another ChD 13-Nov-2008
The claimant requested the revocation of a grant of probate to the defendant. They had suspicions about the will propounded and lodged a caveat which was warned off and the grant completed. In breach of court orders, the defendant had transferred . .
CitedLondon Borough of Lewisham v D and Others FD 29-Mar-2010
The local authority was investigating allegations involving the family history of children in their care. They sought disclosure by the respondent police authority of the results DNA comparison tests to assist their investigations. The court . .
See AlsoIn re L (A Child: Media Reporting) FD 18-Apr-2011
The local authority had intervened on suspecting physical abuse. L was placed with the maternal grandmother who took L to Ireland before care proceedings were commenced. The Irish court found him to have been wrongfully removed, and orders were made . .
CitedThornton v Telegraph Media Group Ltd QBD 26-Jul-2011
The claimant alleged defamation and malicious falsehood in an article published and written by the defendants. She complained that she was said to have fabricated an interview with the second defendant for her book. An interview of sorts had now . .
CitedDoncaster Metropolitan Borough Council v Haigh FD 22-Aug-2011
The Council sought to have certain aspects of a care application put into the public domain which would normally have remained private. Application was also made (by the father and the child) for an order restricting the right of the mother to make . .
CitedIn re T (Children) SC 25-Jul-2012
The local authority had commenced care proceedings, alleging abuse. After lengthy proceedings, of seven men and two grandparents, all but one were exonerated. The grandparents had not been entitled to legal aid, and had had to mortgage their house . .
CitedIn re J (Children) SC 20-Feb-2013
The mother had been, whilst in a previous relationship, involved in care proceedings after the death from physical abuse of her baby. Whilst being severely critical of her, the court had been unable to identify the author of the child’s death. Now, . .
CitedLondon Borough Council v K and Others FD 12-Apr-2010
The parents disputed contact for the children. The children then made allegations of very serious sex abuse against the father. A police investigation resulted in no action, it being said that the children had been coached to make false allegations . .
CitedBraganza v BP Shipping Ltd and Others CA 22-Mar-2013
The claimant widow sued in negligence after the disappearance overboard of her husband from the respondent’s ship. The court had found insufficient evidence to establish the cause of death, either as to negligence as suggested by the claimant, or as . .
Citedre G (A Child) CA 8-Apr-2014
McFarlane LJ said: ‘In most child care cases a choice will fall to be made between two or more options. The judicial exercise should not be a linear process whereby each option, other than the most draconian, is looked at in isolation and then . .
CitedBraganza v BP Shipping Ltd SC 18-Mar-2015
The claimant’s husband had been lost from the defendant’s ship at sea. The defendant had contracted to pay compensation unless the loss was by suicide. They so determined. The court was now asked whether that was a permissible conclusion in the . .
CitedIn re P and Q (Children: Care Proceedings: Fact Finding) FC 19-Mar-2015
The mother and her partner had accused many people of the satanic ritual abuse of her children. The children had since retracted their complaints.
Held: The complaints by the children had been prompted and manufactured by the mother’s partner . .
CitedRe EV (A Child) SC 1-Mar-2017
Appeal from application for permanence order. EV had been in care from her birth. Her parents, each with long standing learning difficulties opposed the order.
Held: The Court allowed the parents’ appeals. The meeting of the threshold test was . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Children, Litigation Practice

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.268807