I was representing one of two parents who have schizo affective mental illness. Firstly: they both had criticism of a parenting assessment conducted by the local authority. Fair comments, such as the local authority not acknowledging their ability to show emotional warmth and show practical parenting skills as well as follow advice. Many positives in the contact with the very young baby sidelined by the local authority. They felt stigmatized due to their mental illnesses and wanted to have an independent social worker carry out a paper assessment which they hoped would be positive (unlikely under the circumstances of the case).
Nevertheless this exercise could have been carried out for relatively little expense on the legal aid certificate and well within time of the final hearing (an independent social worker had already been identified). All parties agreed that four days would be an appropriate listing for the final hearing. Given that there were several experts, psychologists and psychiatrists for both parents, two social workers,the Guardian Ad Litem, the author of the parenting assessment and two parents with mental illness that warranted taking matters slowly. The District Judge made a decision not to allow the initial viability paper assessment by the independent social worker (stating that he had a wealth of evidence before him and it would take matters no further).
However, possibly more concerning to counsel for both parents was that the Judge refused point blank to allow four days stating that the case could almost be dealt with on submissions. The Judge allowed only one day for the final hearing. Should the issue be appealed on the basis that the parents wish to fully contest the hearing and require four days to do so? Given that they are very vulnerable people shouldn’t the Judge have exercised his discretion in a way which accommodates the right of these parents to a fair trial and one where justice should be seen to be done? His major reason was that the baby with the background of mental illness will be difficult enough to place for adoption and the panel date should not be missed. In fact one panel date would have been missed but due to the listing of the final hearing another one would have been diarised well in advance of the final hearing and after all the evidence had been filed and served, therefore, arguably not dis-advantaging the young baby.