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  • Writer's pictureHogans Family Law Team

Clarification of Reasons in Care Proceedings: Key Takeaways from RE YM [2024] EWCA Civ 71

In the recent case of RE YM (Care Proceedings) (Clarification of Reasons) [2024] EWCA Civ 71, the Court of Appeal provided significant insights on the issue of seeking clarification of reasons for an appeal in care proceedings.


The case serves as a significant reminder for legal practitioners about the boundaries and proper conduct of such requests, especially in the context of care proceedings involving serious allegations and injuries to a young child.


This appeal, brought by the local authority and supported by the children’s guardian, was opposed by the child's mother, father, and grandparents. The local authority sought a rehearing of the fact-finding hearing before a different judge, arguing that the judge’s ultimate analysis did not reflect the evidence accurately and failed to provide a reliable basis for subsequent welfare assessments and decisions. However, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.


The judgment delivered by Baker LJ offers five crucial lessons for the Family Court when dealing with post-judgment requests for clarification.


The key points:

1. Material Relevance: A judgment need not address every issue raised during the case. Requests for clarification should only be made if the omission, ambiguity, or deficiency in reasoning is material to the decisions required in the proceedings. In care proceedings, these decisions revolve around whether the threshold criteria for making orders under s.31.(2) are met and what orders should be made to serve the child's welfare needs.


2. Justification of Requests: When seeking clarification, counsel must identify why the clarification is material to the decisions at hand. This ensures that the request is pertinent and necessary.


3. Proper Use of Requests: Requests for clarification should not be used to re-argue the case, reiterate submissions, or invite the judge to reconsider findings. This misuse can lead to unnecessary complications and delays.


4. Unified Requests: Instead of sending separate requests from different parties, there should be a single document compiled by one of the advocates. If needed, an advocates meeting should be held to compile the document. Repeated requests for clarification should be avoided unless there are exceptional circumstances.


5. Judicial Response: Judges should only respond to requests for clarification that are material to the decisions in the proceedings. This practice helps maintain focus and efficiency in the judicial process.


Males LJ, agreeing with Baker LJ's judgment, added four additional points about the practice of requesting clarification in family cases:


1. Counsel's Dilemma: The Court of Appeal recognises that counsel might face a dilemma when a judgment is patently inadequate. If no request for clarification is made, there could be criticism if the inadequacy is raised for the first time on appeal.


2. Appropriate Use of Requests: Requests for clarification should not aim to dilute the findings of the judgment or negotiate with the judge to avoid an appeal.


3. Clarity in Clarification: If a judge decides to clarify a finding, the clarification should enhance, not obscure, the original judgment.


4. Purpose of Fact-Finding: The fact-finding hearing should focus on determining the necessary facts to make decisions about the child's future.


Implications for Legal Practice

The case of RE YM [2024] EWCA Civ 71 underscores the importance of disciplined and judicious use of clarification requests in care proceedings. The guidance provided by Baker LJ and Males LJ aims to prevent the misuse of this process, ensuring that judgments remain clear, focused, and final. Legal practitioners must heed these lessons to support the effective and fair administration of justice, prioritising the welfare of the child above all else.


For more information and expert legal advice on care proceedings and appeals, contact Hogans Family Law department. Our experienced team is here to guide you through every step of the process.


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