Burden and standard of proof
The burden of proof lies with the local authority. The inherent probability or improbability of an event remains a matter to be taken into account when weighing probabilities and deciding whether, on balance, the event occurred (Re B (Care Proceedings: Standard of Proof)  UKHL 35 at paragraph 15]. There is no room for a finding by the court that something might have happened. The court may decide that it did or that it did not happen [Re B at paragraph 2]. The standard of proof does not shift according to the seriousness of the allegation, nor the inherent probability or improbability of an event occurring. See Baroness Hale in Re B (Children)(Fc)  UKHL 35:
The standard of proof is the balance of probabilities (Re B  UKHL 35).
Do not speculate and do not reverse the burden of proof
Findings of fact must be based on evidence. As Munby LJ, as he then was, observed in Re A (A Child) (Fact-finding hearing: Speculation) EWCA Civ 12:
“It is an elementary proposition that findings of fact must be based on evidence, including inferences that can properly be drawn from the evidence and not on suspicion or speculation.”
Findings of fact must not be based on hypothesis. The Court must avoid speculation, particularly in situations where there is a gap in the evidence. As stated by Munby LJ in Re A (Fact finding hearing: Speculation)  EWCA Civ 12 at (26)
It is for the Local Authority to satisfy the court, on the balance of probabilities, that it has made out its case in relation to disputed facts. The parents have to prove nothing and the court must be careful to ensure that it does not reverse the burden of proof.
Lancashire v R  EWHC 3064 (Fam), ‘there is no pseudo-burden upon a parent to come up with alternative explanations’ [paragraph 8(vi)]. Having heard all the evidence it is open to the court to conclude that the evidence leaves it unsure whether it is more probable than not that the event occurred and accordingly, that party who has the burden of proving that event has occurred has failed to discharge the burden – The Popi M, Rhesa Shipping Co SA v Edmunds, Rhesa Shiping Co SA v Fenton Insurance Co Ltd  1 WLR 948. The fact that the local authority relies on the lack of a satisfactory explanation for the injuries does not amount to a reversal of the burden of proof – Re M-B (Children) 2015 EWCA Civ 1027,  All ER (D) 135.
Consider all the evidence
When considering cases of suspected child abuse the court must take into account all the evidence and furthermore consider each piece of evidence in the context of all the other evidence. As Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss P observed in Re T  EWCA Civ 558,  2 FLR 838 at 33:
“Evidence cannot be evaluated and assessed in separate compartments. A judge in these difficult cases must have regard to the relevance of each piece of evidence to other evidence and to exercise an overview of the totality of the evidence in order to come to the conclusion whether the case put forward by the local authority has been made out to the appropriate standard of proof.”
Reliance on expert evidence
Whilst appropriate attention must be paid to the opinion of medical experts, those opinions need to be considered in the context of all the other evidence. The roles of the court and the expert are distinct. It is the court that is in the position to weigh up expert evidence against the other evidence (see A County Council & K, D, & L  EWHC 144 (Fam);  1 FLR 851 per Charles J). Thus there may be cases, if the medical opinion evidence is that there is nothing diagnostic of non-accidental injury, where a judge, having considered all the evidence, reaches the conclusion that is at variance from that reached by the medical experts.
The court must be careful to ensure that each expert keeps within the bounds of their own expertise and defers, where appropriate, to the expertise of others (see observations of King J in Re S EWHC 2115 Fam)
In Re U (Serious Injury: Standard of Proof): Re B  2 FLR 263 at paragraph 23. Butler-Sloss P –
The cause of an injury or an episode that cannot be explained scientifically remains equivocal.
- Recurrence is not in itself probative.
- caution is necessary in any case where the medical experts disagree, one opinion declining to exclude a reasonable possibility of natural cause.
- The court must always be on guard against the over-dogmatic expert, the expert whose reputation or amour propre is at stake, or the expert who has developed a scientific prejudice.’
- The judge in care proceedings must never forget that today’s medical certainty may be discarded by the next generation of experts or that scientific research will throw light into corners that are at present dark.’
As observed by Hedley J in Re R (Care Proceedings: Causation) EWHC 1715 Fam:
“There has to be factored into every case which concerns a disputed aetiology giving rise to significant harm a consideration as to whether the cause is unknown. That affects neither the burden nor the standard of proof. It is simply a factor to be taken into account in deciding whether the causation advanced by the one shouldering the burden of proof is established on the balance of probabilities.”
Evidence of the parents/carers and the impact of lies.
The evidence of the parents and any other carers is of the utmost importance. It is essential that the court forms a clear assessment of their credibility and reliability. They must have the fullest opportunity to take part in the hearing and the court is likely to place considerable weight on the evidence and the impression it forms of them (see Re W and another (Non-accidental injury)  FCR 346).
As observed by Mostyn J in Lancashire County Council v R  EWHC 3064 (Fam) (citing Onassis and Calogeropoulos v Vergottis  2 Lloyd’s Rep 403, per Lord Pearce and A County Council v M and F  EWHC 1804 (Fam)  2 FLR 939 at paras  and ) ‘The assessment of credibility generally involves wider problems than mere “demeanour” which is mostly concerned with whether the witness appears to be telling the truth as he now believes it to be. With every day that passes the memory becomes fainter and the imagination becomes more active. The human capacity for honestly believing something which bears no relation to what actuallyhappened is unlimited. Therefore, contemporary documents are always of the utmost importance’.
It is common for witnesses in these cases to tell lies in the course of the investigation and the hearing. The court must be careful to bear in mind that a witness may lie for many reasons, such as shame, misplaced loyalty, panic, fear and distress, and the fact that a witness has lied about some matters does not mean that he or she has lied about everything (see R v Lucas  QB 720). In Re A-B-C (Children )  EWCA 451 Macur LJ provided updated guidance on the assessment of credibility.
That a witness’s dishonesty may be irrelevant in determining an issue of fact is commonly acknowledged in judgments, and with respect to the Recorder as we see in her judgment at , in formulaic terms:
“that people lie for all sorts of reasons, including shame, humiliation, misplaced loyalty, panic, fear, distress, confusion and emotional pressure and the fact that somebody lies about one thing does not mean it actually did or did not happen and / or that they have lied about everything”.
But this formulation leaves open the question: how and when is a witness’s lack of credibility to be factored into the equation of determining an issue of fact? In my view, the answer is provided by the terms of the entire ‘Lucas’ direction as given, when necessary, in criminal trials.
Chapter 16-3, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the December 2020 Crown Court Compendium, provides a useful legal summary:
“1. A defendant’s lie, whether made before the trial or in the course of evidence or both, may be probative of guilt. A lie is only capable of supporting other evidence against D if the jury are sure that: (1) it is shown, by other evidence in the case, to be a deliberate untruth; i.e. it did not arise from confusion or mistake; (2) it relates to a significant issue; (3) it was not told for a reason advanced by or on behalf of D, or for some other reason arising from the evidence, which does not point to D’s guilt.
The direction should be tailored to the circumstances of the case, but the jury must be directed that only if they are sure that these criteria are satisfied can D’s lie be used as some support for the prosecution case, but that the lie itself cannot prove guilt. …”
56. In Re H-C (Children)  EWCA Civ 136 @ , McFarlane LJ, as he then was said: “99 In the Family Court in an appropriate case a judge will not infrequently directly refer to the authority of Lucas in giving a judicial self-direction as to the approach to be taken to an apparent lie. Where the “lie” has a prominent or central relevance to the case such a self-direction is plainly sensible and good practice. 100 … In my view there should be no distinction between the approach taken by the criminal court on the issue of lies to that adopted in the family court. Judges should therefore take care to ensure that they do not rely upon a conclusion
57. To be clear, and as I indicate above, a ‘Lucas direction’ will not be called for in every family case in which a party or intervenor is challenging the factual case alleged against them and, in my opinion, should not be included in the judgment as a tick box exercise. If the issue for the tribunal to decide is whether to believe A or B on the central issue/s, and the evidence is clearly one way then there will be no need to address credibility in general. However, if the tribunal looks to find support for their view, it must caution itself against treating what it finds to be an established propensity to dishonesty as determinative of guilt for the reasons the Recorder gave in . Conversely, an established propensity to honesty will not always equate with the witness’s reliability of recall on a particular issue.
58. That a tribunal’s Lucas self-direction is formulaic, and incomplete is unlikely to determine an appeal, but the danger lies in its potential to distract from the proper application of its principles. In these circumstances, I venture to suggest that it would be good practice when the tribunal is invited to proceed on the basis , or itself determines, that such a direction is called for, to seek Counsel’s submissions to identify: (i) the deliberate lie(s) upon which they seek to rely; (ii) the significant issue to which it/they relate(s), and (iii) on what basis it can be determined that the only explanation for the lie(s) is guilt. The principles of the direction will remain the same, but they must be tailored to the facts and circumstances of the witness before the court.
Pool of perpetrators
When seeking to identify the perpetrators of non-accidental injuries the test of whether a particular person is in the pool of possible perpetrators is whether there is a likelihood or a real possibility that he or she was the perpetrator (see North Yorkshire County Council v SA 2 FLR 849. In order to make a finding that a particular person was the perpetrator of non-accidental injury the court must be satisfied on a balance of probabilities. It is always desirable, where possible, for the perpetrator of non-accidental injury to be identified both in the public interest and in the interest of the child, although where it is impossible for a judge to find on the balance of probabilities, for example that Parent A rather than Parent B caused the injury, then neither can be excluded from the pool. (see Re D (Children)  2 FLR 668, Re SB (Children)  1 FLR 1161)
The further point, made in Re D (Children) 2009 2FLR 668 above and endorsed by the Supreme Court in Re SB (Children) 2010 1FLR 1161 above that, in circumstances where it is impossible for a judge to find on the balance of probabilities that Parent A rather than Parent B caused the injury and neither can be excluded from the pool, that ‘the judge should not strain to do so’ was expressly rejected by the Court of Appeal in Re A (Children) (Pool of Perpetrators) 2022 EWCA Civ (decided on 17 October 22).
In Re A (Children) (Pool of Perpetrators) above, at pr. 34, King LJ says as follows:
‘I suggest, therefore, that in future cases judges should no longer direct themselves on the necessity of avoiding “straining to identify a perpetrator”. The unvarnished test is clear: following a consideration of all the available evidence and applying the simple balance of probabilities, a judge either can, or cannot, identify a perpetrator. If he or she cannot do so, then, in accordance with Re B (2019), he or she should consider whether there is a real possibility that each individual on the list inflicted the injury in question.’
In Re B (Children: Uncertain Perpetrator)  EWCA Civ 575 the correct approach to the concept of the ‘pool of perpetrators’ was reiterated. Jackson LJ says:
48. The concept of the pool of perpetrators should therefore, as was said in Lancashire, encroach only to the minimum extent necessary upon the general principles underpinning s.31(2). Centrally, it does not alter the general rule on the burden of proof. Where there are a number of people who might have caused the harm, it is for the local authority to show that in relation to each of them there is a real possibility that they did. No one can be placed into the pool unless that has been shown. This is why it is always misleading to refer to ‘exclusion from the pool’: see Re S-B at . Approaching matters in that way risks, as Baroness Hale said, reversing the burden of proof.
49. To guard against that risk, I would suggest that a change of language may be helpful. The court should first consider whether there is a ‘list’ of people who had the opportunity to cause the injury. It should then consider whether it can identify the actual perpetrator on the balance of probability and should seek, but not strain, to do so: Re D (Children)  EWCA Civ 472 at . Only if it cannot identify the perpetrator to the civil standard of proof should it go on to ask in respect of those on the list: “Is there a likelihood or real possibility that A or B or C was the perpetrator or a perpetrator of the inflicted injuries?” Only if there is should A or B or C be placed into the ‘pool’.
Finally, when the court is considering failure to protect there must be a connection between the facts found and the risk alleged in the form of evidence that the parents knew or ought to