This is an updated version of the original post last week which disappeared during a period of site maintenance.
We were rather surprised by this story in the Daily Mail last week which consisted of a perfectly reasonable selection of quotations from a Court of Appeal judgment in a notable case. The Court found that a judge at Liverpool Family Court had incorrectly made care orders in respect of three children at what was essentially a hearing for directions only three weeks after the applications were lodged. These were ‘final’ care orders, not interim orders, and not what anyone was expecting at that early stage, for reasons explained in the CA judgment reported on BAILII as Re S-W and also by Suesspiciousminds.
Apart from the Mail getting HHJ Dodds’ first name wrong (pointed out in a comment by Jerry Lonsdale) and its sensational headline. ‘Mother and 11-year-old son separated by judge in secret family court hearing despite their desperate pleas to stay together’ the story appears a fair representation of the Court of Appeal’s view that ‘a ruthlessly truncated process as the judge adopted here was fundamentally unprincipled and unfair’.
The case raises wider questions about the pressures that judges are under to dispose of cases quickly, and what might have been done to rectify the situation facing the family who had to wait nearly six months for the appeal to be heard.
In a comment on the original post, Hilary Searing drew attention to another judge in trouble for his ‘hostility’ toward one party, which the Telegraph claims has led to his being ‘thrown off the case’.
Far more startling and, arguably, even more troubling than either of the above cases was another successful appeal against HHJ Dodds, heard just the day after Re S-W. According to the UK Human Rights blog and the Law Gazette, the judge refused an application by a 13-year-old for a DNA test, with the words that she ‘might like to put her crash helmet on’. HHJ Dodds apparently referred to the application as ‘lunatics taking over the asylum’ and ‘codswallop’ despite the fact that all parties agreed to it. The Court of Appeal is said to have admonished the judge as ‘gratuitously rude’ but as, unfortunately, its judgment is not published, this all remains bit of a mystery. Or ‘secret’ as the Mail would have it.