The court's comments came as it overturned an earlier High Court order that the man could only see his family under supervision from Nottinghamshire County Council.
The man, who cannot be named, had allegedly abused his eldest daughter, now 17, and there were fears that the two younger daughters were also at risk, the court heard.
Nevertheless, Sir Stephen Brown, sitting with Lord Justice Hirst and Lord Justice Waite, said that the court was powerless to protect the children and was unable to force Nottinghamshire to do so. The council, in its original application, had failed to ask for a supervision order, and as a result, there was no legal basis for Mr Justice Ward's ruling in the High Court.
Sir Stephen, who described the case as an 'unhappy catalogue of errors', said the local authority should not shrink from taking measures to ensure the daughters were safe from abuse. It should either renew an application to put the children under supervision, or ask for them to be put in care.
However, the judges added: 'The court is deeply concerned at the absence of any power to direct this authority to take steps to protect the children. Unfortunately, as appears from this case, if a local authority doggedly resists taking the steps which are appropriate to the case of children at risk of suffering harm, it appears the court is powerless.'
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