Gwynneth Knowles QC seals binding new law31/03/13
Appeal to the highest court in the UK has resulted in a ground-breaking judgment that will have future bearing on all civil and family cases heard in this country.
Atlantic Chambers' Gwynneth Knowles QC's intervention in the matter of L and B (Children) 2013 means that judges can now change their minds before judgement is sealed if they feel it is in the interests of justice to do so.
It is a point of law that has never been previously considered by the supreme Court and has now created binding case law in both family and civil courts.
Miss Knowles, who is an acknowldeged expert in Family Law, led an appeal to the Supreme Court in the matter of two children, who cannot be named for legal reasons, following care proceedings initiated because one of the children was seriously injured.
The original judgement of Judge Penna, after a lenghty fact finding hearing to determine whether the child's injuries were non-accidental, foudn that the father was responsible for injuring his child.
But before the order was sealed Judge Penna changed her judgement and said that she was unable to say who had caused the injuries to the child and asked for an assessment of the father as carer, given the mother's history of mental health problems.
The mother, however, was granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court with the support of the local authority, the children's guadian and the maternal grandparents.
The issue was whether, and in what circumstances, a judge who has announced a decision in civil or family proceedings is entitled to reverse it.
The five Supreme Court judges who heard the arguments unanimously allowed the appeal, stating that Judge Penna did have the right to change her mind before the original order was sealed.
The reasons for their judgement included the premise that a judge must be able to keep an open mind until a final decision has been made and it would be detrimental to the initerests of all concerned, expecially the children, if the only way to correct an error were by an appeal.
Gwynneth Knowles QC said: "I thought there were strong grounds to take this to the Supreme Court because it was a serious issue in the public interest. I felt that the Court of Appeal had thought incorrectly that it had been more important to arrive at a certain and speedy decision rather than allowing the judge to take time not to get it wrong."
"The essence of the Supreme Court's decision is that the right outcome must be a just one and I am pleased that the Court has upheld the Judge's second decision because it was the right thing to do."
"It is a just outcome for the parents, particularly the father. the strong message is that judges shouldn't be afraid of changing their minds when it is clearly the right course of action in the interests of justice."