The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Tuesday overturned a decision made back in January by the Court of Appeal of Barbados in a child custody case.
The original suit was filed by the father back in 2014 when the child was 13 years old.
And following an investigation ordered by the trial judge into the living circumstances of both parents and the welfare of the child, the Child Care Board completed its first report in May 2014 and a second report in October of the same year.
The mother subsequently requested the notes of the October 2014 report, which recommended that the father be given primary custody. However, her request was denied by the Child Care Board for reasons of confidentiality.
Litigation ensued over whether the material requested should be disclosed and the matter was initially decided in the mother’s favour, but later reversed by the local Court of Appeal.
On that basis, the mother decided to take the case to the CCJ.
In its ruling, the CCJ, which is the island’s final court, upheld the trial judge’s order which had directed the Child Care Board to disclose its file notes from interviews conducted.
The Court further ordered the Board to deliver its notes to the attorney representing the mother by March 24, unless the parties can agree to custody arrangements which are approved by the High Court.
“While we had, regretfully, to undertake this appeal without the benefit of the reasons of the Court of Appeal, we can fathom no proper basis on which that court could have set aside the judgment of the trial judge,” the five-member CCJ panel headed by its President Sir Dennis Byron said in rendering its decision.
“If, in a case like this one, a judge takes all the relevant factors into account, demonstrates sensitivity to meeting both the legitimate interests of the Board and the mother’s right to a fair trial, and applies
the right principles, an appellate court cannot be justified in setting aside the exercise of the judge’s discretion.
“The judge properly considered that the public interest in the Board’s confidentiality was insubstantial since the relevant information and the respective sources of that information had already been disclosed in the reports and the oral testimony of the officer.
“In all the circumstances, we allow the appeal and order that the judgment of the trial judge should be restored,” the CCJ added.
The regional court also expressed regret that the full names of the parties and the child had made their way into some of the documents that were filed.
“We agree with the Chief Justice [of the Court of Appeal] that this should not be repeated,” the CCJ said.
It also weighed in on the issue of confidentiality, saying it must be balanced against the public interest in a fair trial and the court is required to strike that balance.
“If, after the balancing exercise, public interest immunity prevails, then the information is not to be taken into account by the decision maker in determining the substantive matter,” the CCJ said.
The matter was filed before the Trinidad-based court in February and its judgment delivered in March, a mere five weeks after the matter was first heard.