Fact-finding hearings can happen during Care Proceedings when the local authority has concerns about children and in Private Proceedings when a parent or carer makes allegations against another parent or carer.
A fact-finding is a very important hearing – it is used by the court to decide whether or not allegations are true, based on the balance of probability.
“Allegations”: when you or someone else accuses or is accused of having done something illegal or wrong which is abusive, dishonest or harmful – domestic violence for example. If there has been a guilty verdict in a criminal court, there is no need for a fact-finding hearing on that allegation. Only allegations the court decides are relevant will be considered.
The onus is on the person/authority making the allegations to prove that they are true. A single judge rules on whose and which allegations are believed. Judges have huge discretion. The judge’s ruling about what is true and what is not becomes a “fact” for all future judgements, regardless of whether you disagree.
The court might decide that a fact-finding hearing is required to determine the following questions, for example in the case of a fracture or bruising:
- Is the fracture a non-accidental Injury?
- Was the fracture or the bruising or both caused by accident, recklessly or deliberately?
- If it is a non-accidental Injury, who might have caused it? If more than one person, the court and lawyers will often refer to a ”pool of possible perpetrators”.
- Can anyone be excluded from the pool?
- If a parent or carer is found to have caused the injury by a reckless or deliberate action, what steps should the court take?
- If the court makes a non-accidental Injury finding that one or more persons – including a parent – may have caused the injury, what will happen next?