Blunkett vs Quinn

Extracts from court proceedings of David Blunkett's application for a parental responsibility order regarding child A, Kimberly Fortier's son

"This is an appeal from an order of the senior district judge concerning a young boy whose identity is known in the public arena but to whom I shall refer as A. He was born on 20 September 2002, and is just over two years of age. The parties to the proceedings are Mr David Blunkett and Ms Kimberly Fortier. Throughout the application ... Ms Fortier has been referred to by her married name, Mrs Kimberly Quinn. The child lives with Mrs Quinn and her husband, Mr Stephen Quinn, at an address in London. Mrs Quinn is 28 weeks' pregnant and it is said her physical and mental health is at significant risk because she is suffering relatively severe complications of pregnancy."

In a ruling delivered at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mr Justice Ryder said:

"This is an appeal from an order of the senior district judge concerning a young boy whose identity is known in the public arena but to whom I shall refer as A. He was born on 20 September 2002, and is just over two years of age. The parties to the proceedings are Mr David Blunkett and Ms Kimberly Fortier. Throughout the application ... Ms Fortier has been referred to by her married name, Mrs Kimberly Quinn. The child lives with Mrs Quinn and her husband, Mr Stephen Quinn, at an address in London. Mrs Quinn is 28 weeks' pregnant and it is said her physical and mental health is at significant risk because she is suffering relatively severe complications of pregnancy."

On 11 November, Mr Blunkett issued an application for a parental responsibility order and a contact order under the Children Act 1989.

The judge noted:

"Having regard to some of the more inaccurate speculation ... I should emphasise that Mr Blunkett has made no other applications to the court and that, in particular, there is not and never has been an application by Mr Blunkett for a residence order or for scientific tests to determine A's paternity. In his application Mr Blunkett is described as the father of the child and Mrs Quinn is described as the mother. Mrs Quinn takes issue with the court's jurisdiction to determine Mr Blunkett's application on the basis that she does not accept that he is the father of A."

Mr Blunkett's application was listed for a conciliation hearing on 30 November. On 19 November, Mrs Quinn applied to adjourn proceedings tillafter 1 April 2005. On 23 November, Senior District Judge Waller refused her application. He said the issue should return to him to consider whether Mr Quinn should be joined to the case and whether there should be scientific tests to determine paternity.After setting out the legal principles, Mr Justice Ryder turned to the question of privacy:

"Neither party asked me to open the court during their discussions as to the welfare of A or their own private and family life ... I am invited to give judgment in open court so the record [on] factual issues may be set straight and so the public might have confidence that the system of family justice is fair and is not wrongly cloaked in unnecessary or inappropriate secrecy.

"This latter invitation is opposed by Mrs Quinn."

A fter weighing up the Human Rights Act provisions, the judge went on:

"Having regard to the quantity of material in the public domain, some of it even in the most responsible commentaries wholly inaccurate, it is right to give this judgment in public. The ability to correct false impressions and misconceived facts will go further to help secure the ... rights of all involved than would the court's silence, which in this case will only promote speculation and adverse comment that will damage both the interests of those involved and the family justice system itself. ... I expressly refute the proposition that this means that all future hearings ... must either be in the public domain or give rise to a public judgment.

The judge summarised Mrs Quinn's grounds of appeal:

"1. Mrs Quinn is entitled to a fair trial which she cannot obtain because: 2. She is unable to participate in the proceedings to the extent she is unable to consider the evidence or issues nor is she able to give instructions;

3. She is at serious risk to her physical and mental health;

4. Any risk of harm to Mrs Quinn will prejudice A (and logically would prejudice the interests of her unborn child, but the interests of that child are not as yet before the court);

5. There is no prejudice in an adjournment for a finite and temporary period, in particular there is no benefit to A in an earlier resolution and no detriment in a later resolution;

6. Alternatively, if there is prejudice it is manifestly outweighed by putting his mother's health at risk and hence his own welfare at risk in these proceedings."

The response of Mr Blunkett's lawyers was then summarised: "1. Delay ... will be deeply damaging to the relationship between Mr Blunkett and A which was severed on any basis in August (over 110 days ago): the contention that there will be little or no prejudice is strongly refuted;

2. The highest Mrs Quinn can put her case is that she is very angry and distressed and that she is not in a position because of her health to give well-considered instructions or to participate fully;

3. To go further would be to say that Mrs Quinn is ... incapacitated in law and neither her medical nor legal advisers go< that far ...

4. It is clear Mrs Quinn was able to give very firm instructions and also to take an active part in the out-of-court debate

5. Mrs Quinn, in particular, is very firm that as paternity is in issue, it must be established in a proper court-sanctioned test.

The senior district judge, in rejecting her application, accepted the medical evidence, but said there was no reassurance the position would be different in April 2005; it was in the child's interest to have his parentage determined as early as possible. Mr Justice Ryder said the judge had identified A's paternity as the first issue; it would be in the interests of the child and both parties if the court ordered scientific tests itself.

Mr Justice Ryder concluded:

"Mrs Quinn was not incapacitated from giving instructions and was able to take a good part in these proceedings until days if not hours before the hearing; in particular, she gave firm instructions in relation to paternity; delay would be damaging to the relationship between Mr Blunkett and A. I accept the submissions made on Mr Blunkett's behalf; accordingly, the senior district judge's decision as to the adjournment was not plainly wrong."

T he judge ended with a plea:

"This case concerns a child. A is entitled to enjoy his private and family life. Even public figures are entitled to the civilised courtesies of being ordinary citizens in the conduct of their private and family lives."

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