District judge ‘sarcastic and shaking with rage’ in flawed family hearingBy John Hyde 25 October 2019
The Family Court has overturned a district judge’s care ruling after finding she ‘crossed the line’ during the hearing, creating a hostile atmosphere and alienating everyone appearing before her.
In C (A Child) (Judicial Conduct), His Honour Judge Mark Rogers said District Judge Mian had conducted the March hearing with ‘serious procedural irregularity’ and made it impossible to ensure proceedings were fair. He upheld the appeal from the mother and appointed Guardian of a one-year-old child, who had been made subject to a care order rather than place with her grandparents.
Taking the decision to deliver a full judgment on the appeal and name the district judge, HHJ Mark Rogers said it was a ‘fundamental tenet’ of fairness to listen carefully to competing argument before coming to a firm decision.
The court heard that the district judge’s conduct was exemplified by, in the words of the child’s barrister, ‘blasphemous words, shouting, storming our of court and general intemperate behaviour’. The district judge was also described as being sarcastic, shaking with rage, turning her chair away from the court and sitting with her back to everyone for several seconds, mimicking the advocate’s words and intimidating the child’s guardian.
HHJ Mark Rogers said he had listened to the recording of the hearing himself and heard ‘with dismay, the anger and tension in the judge’s voice’. Her exchanges with the child’s barrister were ‘sharp and substantially inhibited counsel from doing her job’.
The district judge’s frustration, it was found, stemmed from her view that the guardian’s analysis was deficient and did not grapple with the central issue of the case. The child’s barrister submitted the district judge’s treatment of the guardian was ‘unacceptable’. The appeal judge agreed the handling of the hearing was ‘wholly unsatisfactory and degenerated into a critique of the guardian’s perceived failure of approach’.
HHJ Mark Rogers added: ‘The judge effectively cross-examined the guardian as if she were representing another hostile party. In my judgment, there and in many places elsewhere the judge went far beyond clarification or amplification and descended into the heart of the arena.’
He stated that family proceedings should not be unnecessarily adversarial: points should be questioned and tested but not to the extent that a witness is unable to fulfil her role. Here, the court heard the guardian felt ‘considerably stressed and upset’.
After the hearing, the child’s grandparents wrote to the guardian saying parts of the hearing were ‘extremely distressing’ with a ‘constant barrage of interruptions aimed at professional witnesses and barristers questioning them’ which brought into question the impartiality of proceedings.