Appeal court questions judge’s change of mind over care of injured child

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A civil court judge came under the spotlight after ruling that a man had seriously injured his daughter – then changing her mind.

Lawyers questioned Judge Jai Penna’s “u-turn” – which followed hearings in Manchester County Court – and launched a challenge in the Court of Appeal.

Appeal judges said Judge Penna should stick to her first decision – following a hearing in London.

The appeal court was told how Judge Penna had been considering the case of a child – who was not identified but is now two – who had suffered “serious injuries”.

She had been asked to consider “whether or not it was possible” to decide if the little girl’s mother or father was the “sole perpetrator”.

On December 15 2011, she gave an oral ruling concluding that “the father was the perpetrator, having snapped when under intolerable pressure”, the appeal court heard.

Three appeal judges – Lord Justice Thorpe, Lord Justice Rimer and Sir Stephen Sedley – were told that Judge Penna had exonerated the mother, who had mental health problems, from responsibility.

They heard that as a consequence of Judge Penna’s ruling a local authority responsible for the youngster’s care decided that the little girl should be looked after by her maternal grandparents.

But in January 2012, Judge Penna had said she would “distribute a perfected judgment at the request of the father”, the appeal court heard.

And in February, Judge Penna said she had “reconsidered the matter carefully” and had reached the view that “to identify a perpetrator would be to strain beyond the constraints of the evidence”, appeal judges heard.

Judge Penna had “apologised to family members for subjecting them to an unpleasant and difficult period” and had explained that difficulties had been caused by her absence from work, “partly through illness, partly through leave”.

Lawyers representing the mother had appealed against Judge Penna’s second ruling – and the appeal court upheld the appeal by a two-to-one majority.

The appeal court heard legal argument at a hearing in London in June and later issued a written judgment. Lord Justice Thorpe described Judge Penna’s change of mind as a “bombshell” and a “U-turn”.

“This was indeed a bombshell,” said Lord Justice Thorpe, in a written appeal court ruling.

“There had been no warning of an impending U-turn,” he added. “It undermined the draft care plan.”