It is set out in the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 that ‘if any party to any proceedings in the family court is dissatisfied with the decision of the court, that party may appeal from it to the Court of Appeal in such manner and subject to such conditions as may be provided by Family Procedure Rules’* – in particular FPR 30A.
However, in the case of Re W (A child)  EWCA Civ 1140 two witnesses, a police officer and a social worker, persons not party to the particular proceedings were given the right of appeal following the result of the care case.
During the care case it was found that the witnesses failed to comply with their professional guidelines and contrived to gather information in favour of substantiating sexual abuse allegations. As a result the Judge made findings that these professionals had caused emotional abuse to a child and wanted to publicly name them for doing so. These findings affected the employability of the witnesses even though the findings never became a factor during the original proceedings.
The witnesses appealed and argued the breach of their Article 8 right under the European Convention of Human Rights- a right to respect for a private and family life (inclusive of a professional life). The court had to consider if a witness had the ability to bring an appeal and if a finding of fact could be appealed alone when the outcome of the proceedings was not in dispute.
Lord Justice McFarlane resolved that for an appeal a witness can be considered as a party to proceedings. Further Lord Justice McFarlane concluded that if a finding was so adverse that it infringed a witness’ Article 8 right then it could be appealed, but only if the procedure used to conclude a finding was unjust.
Therefore, the appeal was allowed and it was held that witnesses should be warned of the potential risk that adverse findings could be made against them and that witnesses should be given the opportunity to respond if adverse findings are made.
Shevonne Weir (Paralegal)
* Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, section 31 (K) (1)- Inserted by the Crime and Courts Act 2013,
s 17(6) (came into force on 22 April 2014)