Judge Makes Impromptu Home Visit

DSC00567 - Version 2A Family Court Judge in England decided to “see for herself” in a court case that involved two young children. (AMV v. RM (2012) EWHC 3629) The proceedings commenced in the usual fashion, but early in the hearing the children’s father disputed the mother’s claim that she and the two children lived in a three-bedroom flat in London. He asserted that mother and children spent most of their time at her parent’s home in council housing, the term used in Britain and Ireland for public or social housing.

Mother admitted that she and the children spent time at her parent’s home, an admission that raised the issue of the standard of the living accommodation of the children. Suddenly, the Judge suggested to mother’s counsel that the court hearing be adjourned so that she could personally inspect both homes.

With only fifteen minutes to ponder the Judge’s request, mother’s lawyer consented to the Judge’s suggestion, but advised that her client had not been able to reach her parents to arrange a visit to their home.

So off they went, the Judge was driven to the homes, both of them, by the father’s lawyer with the mother accompanying him. The mother’s lawyer drove her car with her passenger, the father.

First the Judge inspected the mother’s home, opening cupboards, looking through the refrigerator and scanning the garbage in the waste paper basket. Then they drove to her parent’s home, surprising them as they entered the premises to look about the home, even opening drawers to examine their contents.

At the conclusion of the inspections, the Judge noted that the parent’s home was “cramped, dirty and untidy”.

Not surprisingly, the Court of Appeal was not impressed with the impromptu inspections calling them “litigation by ambush”. The Appeal Court noted that the Judge’s request to view the homes was unfair because if mother’s lawyer had not agreed, it is likely the Judge would have drawn an adverse inference against the mother. The unexpected request on short notice was also a breach of the mother’s right to a fair trial.

The Court’s imposition on the maternal grandparents was also wholly inappropriate as they had no time to consider their position or obtain independent legal advice. Finally, the Appeal Court said that if there were issues about the children’s accommodation, it was a matter for social services, not for a Judge of the Court.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang


3 thoughts on “Judge Makes Impromptu Home Visit

  1. Reblogged this on Invisible Law and commented:
    A fascinating anecdote: in the middle of a hearing on a family law matter, a judge suggests an adjournment in order to inspect the living accommodations of the children. Certainly a problematic move under Canadian process and procedure. Still, it does make me wonder what a legal system in which judges make “house calls” would look like. It reminds me a little of the system in some civil law countries, in which the judge has an investigative role and the lawyers are facilitators of that investigation. But I’ve never before heard of a judge making house calls!

  2. What else can you do? Complain to the presiding Judge in your circuit about the GALs that do not do their duties to the children they are appointed to represent. After enough complaints the judges may start changing the way they appoint GALs or stop appointing the ones that are not performing their duties. When you are complaining to the presiding Judge about a specific GAL or GALs in general, also mention in your letter or conversation that maybe the court should increase the hourly rate or pay for GALs and set better guidelines for seeing that their fees are paid. And, if you have been ordered by a court to pay a GAL in your case, please see that you do.

  3. Some really superb content on this site, thanks for your contribution. “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.” by Tom Clancy.

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