A one-hour oral judgment delivered on a complex family case was ‘manifestly insufficient’ and should be re-examined, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Lord Justice Baker concluded in T & Others (Children: Adequacy of Reasons) (Rev1) that the process adopted by His Honour Judge Oliver was ‘plainly irregular’ and did not take account of the detailed submissions of the parties.

The family court judge had overseen a fact-finding hearing relating a girl’s allegations that she was sexually abused by her older brother and also that she was physically assaulted by her mother, who had sought to cover up the sexual abuse.

The hearing lasted 12 days over August, September and October last year, with the intention of delivering judgment in November.

In the event, the judge gave an oral judgment in March this year, ruling that the allegations were substantially true. He had explained at the outset that he had only an hour to deliver the judgment because he had another hearing and that it was going to be ‘more of an overview than anything else’.

The mother and brother appealed, arguing that the judge’s flawed approach and inadequate reasoning had failed to meet minimum standards and did not address the seriousness of the allegations.

It was pointed out there was no detailed analysis of the girl’s allegations, no considerations of the credibility of what she claimed, and only passing references to the accounts of her mother and brother. In particular, the brother had given four witness statements and was cross-examined for a day, yet there was ‘barely any mention’ of his written or oral evidence in the judgment.

Counsel opposing the appeal accepted there were omissions.

Baker acknowledged that judges in the family court were under pressure from limited time and resources, but he criticised the decision to give a relatively short overview judgment. He rejected that this was an ex tempore judgment given that it was handed down six months after the hearing, and said in any case this would have been an unwise course.

‘With respect to this experienced judge, he ought to have adopted the course suggested by the parties of handing down a written judgment,’ said Baker. ‘Cases of this length and complexity, in which serious findings are going to be made which will have a lifelong impact of members of the family, require a much more detailed analysis.’

He added: 'Anyone reading the judgment – be it the parties, the public, an appellate court, professionals working with the family, or in later years the children themselves – would have no idea how the judge assessed the complex evidence he heard, why he preferred some parts of the complex and contradictory evidence and rejected others, or why he reached his conclusions on the very serious – life-changing – allegations.’

He proposed that proceedings be remitted to the designated family judge for Central London to be listed for an urgent issues resolution hearing, and expressed his hope that a re-hearing would not be required.