Girl in ‘forensic limbo’ as parents spend over three years locked in family court row

An eight-year-old girl who has been at the centre of a family court row between her separated parents for nearly three-and-a-half years has been badly let down by “the system”, a senior judge has said.

Mrs Justice Roberts, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court in London, says “long periods of delay” between court hearings have exacerbated tensions between the girl’s parents.

The judge says the girl has been “effectively allowed to languish” in a state of “forensic limbo” since the middle of 2016.

She said because of the dispute the girl, who lives with her mother, had not seen her father for about two-and-a-half years.

Mrs Justice Roberts has outlined her concerns in a ruling published online following the latest hearing in the girl’s case.

The judge said she had overseen a trial at a family court in Bournemouth, Dorset, in September.

She has not named the family involved.

Mrs Justice Roberts said the girl’s father was a Buddhist minister and her mother a lecturer.

She said the pair had links to London and Cardiff and described them as “interesting individuals”.

“The system has let this child down badly,” said Mrs Justice Roberts.

“There have been long periods of delay between the various hearings which have only served to exacerbate the tensions between the parties.”

She added: “I recognise and accept that delay is an inevitable part of a court system which is all too often under-resourced in terms of judges and available court time in ever over-burdened court lists.

“That said, I would not be discharging my judicial function in this case if I did not observe at the outset that, whatever the cause, the resolution for this child and for these parents has been delayed for far too long.”

Mrs Justice Roberts said there had been more than six court hearings, including appeals, since July 2016 and went on: “Within the extended timetable of this litigation between her parents, she has effectively been allowed to languish in a state of forensic limbo (as have her parents) for more than three years.”

She said another High Court judge who analysed issues at one stage had described the delay which “plagued” the case as “staggering”.

Litigation had started when the girl’s mother accused her estranged husband of sexually abusing the girl.

He said her allegations were “completely untrue”.

The man had stopped seeing his daughter, in the wake of the launch of litigation, in mid-2017.

Mrs Justice Roberts said she had made a “fresh start” and conducted a “comprehensive analysis” of available evidence.

The judge said she had concluded that the man had washed his daughter’s bottom in a play centre toilet four years ago.

She said there was:

  • No reliable evidence to show that his actions had been “sexually motivated” or that he had caused harm.
  • No reliable evidence to support other sex abuse allegations made by the woman.
  • No reliable evidence to show that he had told his daughter to keep the washing “a secret”.

Mrs Justice Roberts said the girl would stay living with her mother.

She said any “re-establishment” of the girl’s relationship would need to be guided by “expert input”.

The judge indicated that issues relating to the girl’s future care would be considered at another hearing.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Kate Collins / PA Wire.

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