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What is a Fact-Finding Hearing?
The Court has the power to order a fact-finding hearing in care proceedings, yet many parents did not know what a fact-finding hearing is until speaking to a solicitor. This article aims to explain what a fact-finding hearing is in a simple manner.
To explain what a fact-finding hearing is, let us use the following example:
- Mrs A and Mr B have two children, X and Y.
- X is 5 years old, and Y is 7 months old.
- One day, Mrs A takes Y to a routine GP appointment, and it is discovered that Y has a broken knee cap.
- Mrs A and Mr B say that they do not know how this has happened. Their only possible explanation is that Y may have fell on the floor.
- After their examination, the doctor states that this injury would have required a lot of force to cause and a fall to the floor cannot have caused this.
- The Local Authority are informed and are extremely concerned. They initiate care proceedings.
- Mrs A, Mr B, the Doctor, nor the Local Authority know how the injury was caused, but they all have their own theories.
In a situation like this, the court would have to order a fact-finding hearing. The purpose of this hearing would be to try and determine the cause of Y’s injury. The Local Authority, the respondent parents, and any other potential perpetrators who have intervened in the proceedings would submit to the court their version of events and explain to the court how they think the injury was caused. Each party would also submit any evidence they wish which supports their version of events such as medical records and alibis on where each parent was in the timeframe the injury was caused. Finally, each parent, and maybe even other important witnesses, may be called to the stand to explain their version of events to the court first hand. This allows parents to ensure their voice is heard by the court but does mean that they are open to cross examination by the other parties. This cross-examination would essentially allow parties to question each other’s position. If found that the allegations are true in a fact-finding hearing, they will be considered true and undisputable for the rest of the care proceedings. The police may also apply for the disclosure of the fact-finding hearing evidence and rely on this in a criminal trial.
Whilst a fact-finding hearing is very similar to a criminal trial, there are two major differences:
- In a criminal trial, the decision is made by a jury, but in a fact-finding hearing, the decision is made by a single judge.
- The burden of proof in a criminal trial is beyond all reasonable doubt, which means that a jury must be absolutely sure that the defendant is guilty. In a fact-finding hearing in the family court, the burden of proof is on the balance of probabilities, which means that the judge only has to believe that it is more than likely that a parent has committed the allegations made against them. Simply put, this would be a 51/49 split.
How can Johnson Astills Help?
If you the Local Authority have issued care proceedings in relation to your children then we may be able to help, especially where there will be a fact-finding hearing. Please contact Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please email us on email@example.com and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.