A family court judge has come under fire for “wholly inappropriate” comments made to a young mother during a private hearing on child contact arrangements.
Judge Richard Scarratt made the mother “fearful” and put pressure on her to accept that the child have contact with her father, a barrister representing the mother has claimed.
A landmark hearing – featuring four linked appeals concerning domestic abuse cases in the family courts for England and Wales – was told on Wednesday how the mother sobbed as Scarratt told her that if the case kept “going on and on” the child could be taken from her, put in care and adopted.
An audio recording of Scarratt’s remarks on 18 March 2019 was heard by appeal judges Lady Justice King, Sir Andrew McFarlane and Lord Justice Holroyde.
Amanda Weston QC, representing the mother, one of four women challenging decisions made about child contact in the past 18 months where there were allegations against the fathers of rape and coercive control, said: “The judge in this case made a number of statements which were wholly inappropriate and were such as to pressure the mother and make her fearful for her and for her child in the event she did not bow to the judge’s indication that a consent arrangement should be reached.”
The court was told that safeguarding checks had been carried out but had not been taken into account in August 2019 when a final order was made.
Allegations of sexual assault by “three different females” had been made against the father, Weston said. One was by a 16-year-old at his place of work. He was later dismissed.
The barrister said Scarratt had failed to consider a social worker’s report expressing concerns.
Weston said the mother’s rape allegations against the man, “taken with the social worker’s recommendation … should have raised very serious red flags and making the order without resolving it, or making an analysis of the impact it might have on the risk to the child, in my submission led him [Scarratt] to an error of law”.
Lawyers representing the father told the court the grounds for appeal were “fundamentally misleading” because the court had been “explicitly” invited not to make findings [on the allegations] by both parties. Teertha Gupta QC conceded the judge had been “outspoken” but said that his comments related to an instance of alleged drug use by the mother.
The court was told by the woman’s barrister that she had had a drug test that was negative – but had taken drugs on one occasion after being coerced by the father.
Gupta said police had decided not to prosecute the father for rape and that the man, who denies all the allegations, had not seen his child for a year. He said the father had also made domestic abuse allegations.
Sir Andrew McFarlane said Scarratt’s remarks were of “significant concern” but that “it doesn’t follow as night follows day that the order in August must be set aside”.
Earlier the court heard the appeal of a different woman seeking a retrial in relation to a case heard by Judge Tolson – whose decisions are being challenged in two of the four linked appeals.
In this case Weston said her client was not opposed to the father having child contact but that the court should have made findings that took note of the father’s angry outbursts and what impact these could have on the child.
MacFarlane said not all the allegations raised had been on the schedule put before Tolson.
Denise Gilling QC, for the father, urged the appeal judges to uphold the original decision, saying it was “abundantly clear” Tolson had followed current guidance on treatment of vulnerable witnesses.
The judges retired on Thursday to consider their findings.