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 that the other must have known.
Held: The appeal succeeded, and the case remitted for a rehearing.
Lady Hale said: ‘the law has drawn a clear distinction between probability as it applies to past facts and probability as it applies to future predictions. Past facts must be proved to have happened on the balance of probabilities, that is, that it is more likely than not that they did happen. Predictions about future facts need only be based upon a degree of likelihood that they will happen which is sufficient to justify preventive action. This will depend upon the nature and gravity of the harm: a lesser degree of likelihood that the child will be killed will justify immediate preventive action than the degree of likelihood that the child will not be sent to school.’
The nostrum, ‘the more serious the allegation, the more cogent the evidence needed to prove it’, is a common misinterpretation of what Lord Nicholls said in in re H (Minors).
Lady Hale emphasised that the decision whether to make an order interfering with individual rights must be taken by an independent and impartial court. In order to bring home to judges that their role is not merely supervisory, she drew an analogy with criminal proceedings: ‘Social workers are the detectives. They amass a great deal of information about a child and his family. They assess risk factors. They devise plans. They put the evidence which they have assembled before a court and ask for an order. . . The court subjects the evidence of the local authority to critical scrutiny, finds what the facts are, makes predictions based upon the facts, and balances a range of considerations in deciding what will be best for the child. We should no more expect every case which a local authority brings to court to result in an order than we should expect every prosecution brought by the CPS to result in a conviction. The standard of proof may be different, but the roles of the social workers and the prosecutors are similar. They bring to court those cases where there is a good case to answer. It is for the court to decide whether the case is made out.’
Lord Hope, Deputy President, Lord Rodger, Lady Hale, Lord Brown, Lord Collins, Lord Kerr, Lord Clarke
Times 18-Dec-2009,  UKSC 17,  WLR (D) 365,  1 FCR 321,  PTSR 456,  1 All ER 705,  Fam Law 231,  2 WLR 238, UKSC 2009/0184,  1 FLR 1161
Bailii, SC Summary, SC
Children Act 1989, European Convention on Human Rights 6 8
England and Wales
Cited – In 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 . .
Appeal from – In re S-B (Children) CA 30-Jun-2009
Cited – 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 . .
Cited – Clingham (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 . .
Cited – In 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. . .
Cited – In re K (Children) (Non-accidental injuries: Perpetrator: New Evidence) CA 27-Aug-2004
The children had been taken into care, and freed for adoption. The mother appealed saying the blame for non-accidental injury was misplaced. The court had not thought her responsible for the non-accidental injuries, but she had been unwilling to . .
Cited – North Yorkshire County Council v SA and others CA 1-Jul-2003
The child was taken to hospital with injuries which the doctors concluded were non-accidental. The identity of the abuser was in doubt.
Held: The court set out to identify the procedures in cases involving suspected non-accidental injuries . .
Cited – Lancashire County Council and Another v B and Others; Lancashire County Council v A HL 16-Mar-2000
A seven month old child had been injured, but it was not possible to establish whether this had taken place whilst with her parents or with a child minder. The Council brought care proceedings also for the minder’s own child B.
Held: Even . .
Cited – In 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 . .
Cited – B v Chief Constable of Avon and Somerset Constabulary QBD 5-Apr-2000
The defendant appealed the making of a sex offender order under 1998 Act. The justices had found that the defendant was a sex offender within section 2(1)(a) and that he had acted on a number of occasions in a way which brought him within section . .
Cited – Secretary of State for the Home Department v Rehman HL 11-Oct-2001
The applicant, a Pakistani national had entered the UK to act as a Muslim priest. The Home Secretary was satisfied that he was associated with a Muslim terrorist organisation, and refused indefinite leave to remain. The Home Secretary provided both . .
Cited – In 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 . .
Cited – ANS and Another v ML SC 11-Jul-2012
The mother opposed adoption proceedings, and argued that the provision in the 2007 Act, allowing a court to dispense with her consent, infringed her rights under Article 8 and was therefore made outwith the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
Cited – In 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, . .
Cited – Re D (A Child) CA 26-Mar-2014
F appealed against the removal of his parental responsibility for his son. M and F were not married, but F had been named on the birth certificate. He had later been convicted of sexual assaults against two daughters of M by an earlier relationship. . .
Cited – Re 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, Human Rights
Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.384146