Re L and B (Children): SC 20 Feb 2013

The court was asked as to the extent to which a court, having once declared its decision, could later change its mind. Though this case arose with in care proceedings, the court asked it as a general question. The judge in a fact finding hearing in care proceedings had issued a provisional judgment, but after representations had delivered a judgment which differed substantially. The parties complained that there had been no satisfactory explanation for the shift.
Held: The power of a judge to reverse the decision at any time before the order was drawn up and sealed was not limited to exceptional circumstances. The overriding objective in the exercise of power was to deal with the case in question justly. The Court of Appeal had erred in requiring exceptionality for when a judge may issue a corrective judgment after changing his mind.
In this case however the first judgment had not reached such a stage of finality for the question properly to arise, since the judgment had not been sealed; the child had not moved, and a placement plan had not been implemented. The judgment as finalised had not been challenged by appeal, and therefore the Court declined to answer the question as posed.
Lady Hale said: ‘the disconcerting truth is that, as judges, we can never actually know what happened: we were not there when whatever happened did happen. We can only do our best on the balance of probabilities, after which what we decide is taken to be the fact . . If a judge in care proceedings is entitled simply to change his mind, it would destabilise the platform of established facts which it was the very purpose of the split hearing to construct; it would undermine the reports, other evidence and submissions prepared on the basis of the earlier findings; it would throw the hearing at the second stage into disarray; and it would probably result in delay.’
and ‘children cases may be different from other civil proceedings, because the consequences are so momentous for the child and for the whole family. Once made, a care order is indeed final unless and until it is discharged. When making the order, the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount consideration. The court has to get it right for the child. This is greatly helped if the judge is able to make findings as to who was responsible for any injuries which the child has suffered. It would be difficult for any judge to get his final decision right for the child, if, after careful reflection, he was no longer satisfied that his earlier findings of fact were correct.’

Lord Neuberger, President, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson, Lord Sumption
[2013] UKSC 8, [2013] 1 WLR 634, UKSC 2012/0263, [2013] WLR(D) 69, [2013] 2 All ER 294, [2013] 2 FCR 19, [2013] 2 FLR 859, [2013] Fam Law 664
Bailii, WLRD, Bailii Summary, SC Summary, SC
Children Act 1989 1(2)
England and Wales
CitedIn re A and L (Children) (Judgment: Adequacy of Reasoning) (Practice Note) CA 27-Oct-2011
The mother appealed against a factual findings made in the course of care proceedings as to her involvement in sexual abuse of the children.
Held: The court gave guidance as to the reconsideration of a court’s decision. Munby LJ said: ‘it is . .
Appeal fromIn re L and B (Children) CA 18-Jul-2012
In care proceedings, there had been protracted fact finding hearings. The judge had given a preliminary report as to her conclusions, but received a communication from counsel for the father requesting her to re-address certain aspects. She later . .
CitedEnglish v Emery Reimbold and Strick Ltd; etc, (Practice Note) CA 30-Apr-2002
Judge’s Reasons Must Show How Reached
In each case appeals were made, following Flannery, complaining of a lack of reasons given by the judge for his decision.
Held: Human Rights jurisprudence required judges to put parties into a position where they could understand how the . .
CitedIn re St Nazaire Company CA 1879
Sir Richard Malins V-C had permitted a petition to proceed which sought to vary an earlier order which he had made and which had been unsuccessfully appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Held: He had no power to do so. Any such power had . .
CitedIn re Suffield and Watts, Ex parte Brown CA 1888
A High Court judge had made an order in bankruptcy proceedings which had the effect of varying a charging order which he had earlier made under the Solicitors Act 1860.
Held: A judge has jurisdiction to reverse his decision at any time until . .
CitedMillensted v Grosvenor House (Park Lane) Ltd CA 1937
For the negligence of the hotel in upsetting a jug of hot water over her, the judge awarded damages of pounds 50 to the plaintiff, but on the following day, without further argument on that point, he informed the parties that his award had been . .
CitedIn re Harrison’s Share Under a Settlement CA 1955
The judge had recalled an order approving the variation of a settlement on behalf of infant, unborn and unascertained persons, because after he had pronounced it but before it was formally drawn up the House of Lords had decided that there was no . .
CitedMurphy v Stone-Wallwork (Charlton) Ltd HL 1969
It had been assumed at the trial and in the Court of Appeal that the defendants would continue to employ the plaintiff and the assessment of future loss had been based upon that assumption. Shortly after the decision of the case by the Court of . .
CitedIn re Barrell Enterprises CA 1972
A judge has power to reconsider a judgement which he has delivered before the order consequent upon it has been sealed, but the judge should only exercise this power if there are strong reasons for doing so. When oral judgments have been given the . .
CitedPittalis v Sherefettin CA 1986
On the day after the judge had given judgment in a county court, he decided that he had been wrong. The judge provided the party with grounds upon which he would, if not persuaded otherwise, alter his previous judgment and order. A further hearing . .
CitedIn re Blenheim Leisure (Restaurants) Ltd (No 3) 9-Nov-1999
Neuberger J gave examples of cases where a judge might revisit his decision: a plain mistake by the court, the parties’ failure to draw to the court’s attention a plainly relevant fact or point of law and the discovery of new facts after judgment . .
CitedStewart v Engel, BDO Stoy Hayward CA 17-May-2000
A judge may reopen a case even after he has delivered his final judgment. A judge invited counsel to amend his pleading to incorporate an improvement, but in the face of his repeated failure to take up the invitation, entered final judgment against . .
CitedRobinson v Fernsby, Scott-Kilvert CA 19-Dec-2003
The judge had drafted his judgment and sent the drafts to the parties for comment. He then received additional written representations from one party, from which he realised that he had made an error, and issued a corrected judgment which a . .
CitedAbacha and Another v Compagnie Noga D’Importantion Et D’Exportation Sa QBD 3-May-2001
The court had handed to the parties a draft judgement, but one party then asked the judge to reconsider it.
Rix LJ referred to the need to balance the concern for finality against the ‘proper concern that courts should not be held by their own . .
CitedPaulin v Paulin CA 17-Mar-2009
The court considered an application by the wife when, anticipating ancillary relief claims, the husband sought to have himself declared bankrupt, and she intervened to have the bankruptcy set aside. The husband now appealed.
Held: Wilson LJ . .

Cited by:
CitedTZ v General Medical Council Admn 17-Apr-2015
Appeal against decision of a Fitness to Practise Panel holding that the Appellant’s fitness to practise as a medical practitioner was impaired by reason of his misconduct. It directed that his name be erased from the Medical Register under section . .
CitedBath v Escott ChD 11-May-2017
Judgment need not follow hearing transcript
Application to have released the audio recording of a hearing to a county court, the applicant saying that the judgment was not a true record of the hearing.
Held: Rose J explained the status of the various elements: ‘the mere fact that the . .
CitedSharland v Sharland SC 14-Oct-2015
The Court considered the impact of fraud upon a financial settlement agreed between divorcing parties where that agreement is later embodied in a court order? Does ‘fraud unravel all’, as is normally the case when agreements are embodied in court . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Children, Litigation Practice

Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.471049