A High Court judge has praised the parties involved in a sensitive case where a mother was able to type her answers to cross-examination.

In what was acknowledged to be a highly unusual approach, the court in C (Children: Welfare) agreed with a suggestion from intermediary Paula Backen that the mother be shown written questions and then allowed to submit her responses in real time from the witness box. This allowed greater input from the mother who was contesting a local authority care order concerning her 12-year-old son.

In court, the mother’s answers were read out before moving to the next question, with advocates able to amend or ask additional questions which were typed in real time by Backen. Whilst the mother was questioned, she wore headphones that played white noise and minimised the stimuli that could have been distracting or distressing.

In a postscript to the ruling, His Honour Judge Moradifar said this was the first experience of such an approach by anyone involved, and at first prompted ‘understandable anxiety’.

‘However, this approach proved to be highly successful,’ said the judge. ‘The mother needed less frequent breaks and those breaks were of a shorter duration. Most importantly, it enabled the mother to fully participate and to be effectively questioned on the important issues in the case.’

The judge noted his gratitude to Backen and the lawyers whose efforts guaranteed the success of this ‘innovative’ approach.

In his ruling, the judge found in favour of the local authority’s care plan for the child, who has complex and closely connected physical and emotional needs. He acknowledged the mother’s love and commitment to her son, as well as to a younger child who continues to live with her, but said it would be unrealistic to expect her to meet both children’s needs. The parents and children must first engage in a recommended therapeutic intervention, the success of which will dictate when and how the older child is to be returned to the mother’s care.