A long battle ahead for wrongly accused parents

28th October 2015

A couple wrongly accused of abusing their baby continue to face a long battle to overturn an adoption order, despite all charges against them being dropped.

Hannah Nicholls, an expert in children matters at leading law firm Higgs & Sons, believes the tragic case of Karissa Cox and Richard Carter highlights that the law is there to protect young and vulnerable children, yet the family courts are under a significant pressure to move quickly in cases. This issue can quite clearly have a detrimental impact in cases where there is also a criminal element.

On 24th April 2012 Karrissa Cox and Richard Carter took their 6-week old baby to the A&E department at the Royal Surrey County Hospital following concern regarding bleeding in the mouth. It was discovered that their baby had torn tissue in the mouth, a number of minor bruises on the body and some fractures.

After an initial investigation, the couple faced assault charges and proceedings were commenced in the family courts. The baby was subsequently taken into care and adopted. The parents were permitted supervised contact with the baby for two years, after which they had no further contact.

There was a significant time delay between the family and criminal proceedings. Defence lawyers for Ms Cox and Mr Carter put forward a number of experts who argued that the X-rays were consistent with rickets, and the child suffered from blood disorder Von Willebrand's disease, explaining the bruising.

These factors led to the original findings being dismissed and the charges being dropped, three and a half years after the initial hospital visit. The couple remain estranged from their child due to the adoption order.

"The parents are determined to fight to get their baby back, however this may prove extremely difficult and they will have many hurdles to overcome. The child has now been settled with new parents for a significant period of time. The paramount consideration for the court is what is in the child's best interests, and therefore, whether after this amount of time it would be in their best interest to be uprooted and returned to their biological parents. If the court considers it to be harmful or too distressing for the child to be returned, then a decision may be made to leave the child with the adoptive parents." comments Hannah Nicholls.

"A very similar case was presented to the courts several years ago, where three children were forcibly removed from a couple, who were subsequently found to be not guilty of abuse. The parents applied to have the adoption order set aside and their children returned to them, however they were unsuccessful.

"The welfare of the child should be the primary concern of any ruling. But where it is clear that a child who has been removed from his family is not at risk, then there should be the opportunity to review that decision based on the evidence and the best interests of the family."

Hannah focuses on all aspects of relationship breakdown, divorce and the division of assets upon separation. She has particular experience in dealing with children law and advises clients on the issue of arrangements for children, including residence and contact. Hannah has also worked on cases with an international element, including child abduction and advising parents who wish to relocate with a child out of the jurisdiction, as well as parents who wish to prevent such action. Hannah regularly represents clients at court, and undertakes some of her own advocacy.  She is also a volunteer for Grandparents Plus (incorporating the Grandparents' Association), and she works closely with grandparents who have lost contact with their grandchildren. She also runs a support group every month for grandparents facing such issues.  Hannah is an active practising member of Resolution, and also sits on the committee for Young Resolution in the West Midlands. For more information, please contact Hannah Nicholls at Hannah.Nicholls@higgsandsons.co.uk.


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