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Transcript: The Jayden Headley case in the Family Court of New Zealand

The Family Court last night took the unusual step of releasing judgments made in the custody battle over Jayden Headley, because of the high public profile of the case.

Transcript: The Jayden Headley case in the Family Court of New Zealand
story Thursday January 25, 2007
Transcript of Judge Rosemary Riddell's ruling on Tuesday, giving Jayden's father, Chris Jones, interim custody.

The Family Court last night took the unusual step of releasing judgments made in the custody battle over Jayden Headley, because of the high public profile of the case. Here is a transcript of Judge Rosemary Riddell's ruling on Tuesday, giving Jayden's father, Chris Jones, interim custody.

At the centre of this case is Jayden Hedley, a 6-year-old boy. Proceedings involving his care have a six-year history, which more recently have largely been played out in the public arena.

I accept that there is considerable interest in Jayden's case and that is why I have decided to depart from the usual practice allowing accredited media to be present … I do apologise to counsel and to the parties that the timing of this hearing is not ideal or particularly convenient for everyone, but here in Hamilton is a young boy wondering where he is going to stay tonight. Jayden is very anxious about the outcomes of these proceedings and the court owes it to Jayden to tell him as soon as possible.

Earlier today Jayden's maternal grandfather returned Jayden to the Hamilton Police Station. At a subsequent hearing before His Honour [Justice Paul] Heath, the court directed Jayden to be released into the care of his lawyer, Ms [Tracey] Gunn, so that she could take him to the Family Court for the purpose of this hearing and arrangements were to be made for a clinical psychologist whom Jayden has seen before to speak to Jayden before the hearing so that issues of wellbeing could be addressed.

I have heard submissions from counsel today. I will summarise those briefly. I have also heard from Ms [Kathy] Orr, the clinical psychologist, who met with Jayden this afternoon. I will refer to that meeting that she had and the discussions with Jayden.

Counsel for Mr [Chris] Jones, Jayden's father, submits that the court order made by the court on June 22, 2006, placing Jayden in the day-to-day care of his father, should continue to apply now that Jayden has been returned to Hamilton.

Counsel for Mr Jones reminded the court of previous decisions of this Family Court and in particular, the evidence given which was relied on by Her Honour Judge Anne McAloon in a decision released on September 25, 2005, in which she accepted the psychologist's evidence that there had been an ongoing conspiracy by Jayden's maternal family to systematically alienate Jayden and treat Mr Jones as if he never existed. That was a finding of Her Honour on the evidence before her.

Mr Sutcliffe has also submitted that other events in this Family Court and decisions of various judges must lead me to the conclusion that Jayden should remain in his father's care. He argues that the systematic alienation of Jayden has continued beyond the date of that judgment of more than a year ago, and that Mr Jones offers Jayden stability of care. He contrasts that [with] the care, which could be offered by members of Jayden's maternal family, arguing that they might face an uncertain future because of pending or actual court proceedings.

Counsel for Ms Skelton reminded the court that Jayden had spent most of his life in the care of his mother, and that evidence will be put before this court of allegations about the father's care. He concedes those allegations are not yet before the court.

Counsel for the mother made three alternative proposals for Jayden's care today. They were firstly that he be placed in the care of Child Youth and Family or secondly, that he go to stay with his maternal grandmother, or thirdly, that he stays with Ms Skelton's brother.

Ms Gunn is lawyer for Jayden. She does not support his placement with the Child, Youth and Family on the basis that it would be a foster home arrangement and that is not ideal for a child who, certainly on the evidence before the court today, is somewhat confused and anxious.

Ms Gunn disputes that Jayden's placement with his maternal family would be appropriate and she cites a previous psychologist's report filed with this court by Ms [Ann] Raethal of July 2006, setting out what Ms Raethal considers to be a pattern of alienation by Jayden's maternal family and behaviour at supervised access, which suggests collusion between Jayden and his mother, notwithstanding the formality of supervised contact. It is her recommendation that there be no contact with the maternal family, apart from that of contact with Jayden's mother.

Ms Orr, as I say, met with Jayden. She noted that Jayden had been promised by his poppa, that is, Mr Dick Headley, that he would see other family members; that Jayden knew about this court hearing today, because he had been told about it by his grandfather and that Jayden's father had taken him away from his mum. That, also, is something that Jayden had been told by his grandfather.Jayden was tearful in the interview about not knowing where he would go tonight.

His demeanour suggested to Ms Orr that his view about his father was a programmed or schooled response. At the end of the interview Jayden appeared almost relieved. He stopped crying; he brightened up.
He had been, I note, interviewed or spoken to, by a number of people today, including strangers. That is why, when on a submission from counsel for Ms Skelton, I declined to be another person added to the list of those interviewing Jayden.

This is an interim hearing only. Prior to any substantive hearing about determining Jayden's care, I consider it would be appropriate for a judge to interview Jayden. In the context of today, and with the background to this matter, I do not consider that anything is gained by being one more person in Jayden's life, and a stranger at that.

I have considered the submissions of counsel. I have read previous decisions of this court and I have reached the clear conclusion that it is appropriate for Jayden to be returned to his father's care. I have come to that decision for the following reasons:

(1) I have looked carefully at the history of this matter. Court proceedings over a six-year period are unusual in the Family Court and they denote a difficulty with matters which suggest that objectivity has long flown out the window. The history of this matter tells me that Jayden should be in his father's care.

(2) His Honour Heath J, made a comment at the conclusion of his decision, to Ms Skelton, when he indicated that it was a shame that matters had got to this stage, and he said, and I want to endorse those words: "The courts must ensure that the integrity of orders it makes are upheld."
This Family Court has heard the evidence and has made an order determining the care of Jayden. That order, being an interim parenting order, was made by this court on June 22, 2006. I have not heard adequate reasons why that order should be overturned.

(3) Section 6 of the Care of Children Act 2004, requires the court to take the child's views into account in any decision-making. Section 6 provides that a child must be given reasonable opportunities to express views on matters affecting that child and any views that the child expresses must be taken into account. When I look at the history of this case, and the events of the past five months, when he had no contact with his father, and he has at the conclusion of that time, made very pointed comments, which have come from his poppa, I am not surprised at the views Jayden has expressed, and I say that those views must be tempered by the knowledge of certain pressure on him recently. I have also had regard in considering Jayden's views, to consider Ms Orr's note about Jayden's demeanour when he expressed those views, and her insight, that the views expressed, appeared to be a programmed or a schooled response.

(4) On the basis of previous proceedings and affidavits filed in this court, I am satisfied that Mr Jones will ensure that the orders made, are respected and that Jayden is made available for any appointments he needs to attend, including specialist appointments and the like.

(5) I am not satisfied it is appropriate to return Jayden to his mother, or to members of her family. I base that view on previous decisions of the Family Court. I was invited by [the Skelton's lawyer] Barry Hart to consider Ms Skelton's mother as a possible interim caregiver.
Her Honour, Judge McAloon had this to say, and I quote from paragraph 33 of that judgment:
"The content of Ms Raethal's report, as it relates to Mrs Headley, demonstrates very clearly that there are significant concerns about her influence on Jayden. I have no difficulty in finding that she, with her husband, played a significant part in their daughter's flight to Australia and she continues to play a significant part in ensuring that Jayden has nothing but a negative attitude towards Chris Jones."
The assessment of Ms Skelton's credibility in the past, and the reasons which led the judge to reduce her contact to a supervised basis, suggests to me that Ms Skelton has learned nothing from these proceedings to date. To place this child in her care, or the care of her mother, or brother, or anyone in the family, would simply be to expose Jayden to ongoing schooling and manipulation.

(6) I have already referred above, to Ms Raethal's report and her specialist evidence regarding the wisdom of placing Jayden with members of his maternal family. This court places great reliance on specialist evidence, particularly that from one as experienced as Ms Raethal and as experienced as Ms Orr. I was invited to hear a submission from Ms Orr about how Jayden might feel about living with his father. In my view, that is a matter for me to determine and I have done so on the basis of the six reasons outlined above. Some submissions have been put to me regarding the suppression of evidence given today, and I accept that some evidence should be suppressed as follows:
(1) There should be suppression of submissions regarding criminal allegations concerning Ms Skelton and her father.
(2) There will be suppression about Jayden's views, as contained in counsel's submissions today, and as expressed to Ms Orr. This child has suffered quite enough public scrutiny without having his views and wishes find their way into the media.

I turn now to directions, which will be made in relation to these matters:
(1) The interim parenting order of June 22, 2006, is to be varied to provide that the supervised contact by Ms Kay Halton Skelton, to Jayden, shall be suspended pending further report to the court by an agent and or a specialist. The remaining provisions of that parenting order will remain in place, that is, Jayden will be in the day-to-day care of his father Christopher Dean Jones.

(2) The order of May 5, 2006 suspending the court-appointed agents will be reinstated. Court-appointed agents will be asked to investigate previous supervised contact between Jayden and his mother, obtain a written report from the supervisor and present that to the court and undertake any other tasks as the presiding judge may deem appropriate.

(3) There is in place, an interim parenting order only. The determination of Jayden's care, in terms of a final parenting order will have to be the subject of a hearing. Counsel are invited to make specific time-tabling directions in order to progress this matter to a hearing. They are to be filed with the court within seven days and if a judicial conference is sought, then the time required for that conference is to be indicated by counsel.

(4) Leave is given to the court-appointed agent on three days' notice to bring any other matters to the court.
(5) Leave is granted to Ms Orr, to provide such therapeutic intervention as she considers necessary for counselling with Jayden. In the event that Ms Orr considers daily counselling to be appropriate then such leave is given.
As I say, there is no restriction on the amount of counselling within the next month. At the expiry of one month, Ms Orr is asked to file a written report to the court, indicating in broad terms, the outcome of counselling to date and her request for future counselling and its frequency.

(6) Leave is granted to Ms Gunn to make such inquiries as she deems necessary with the parties and with any other party to consider Jayden's future schooling options. Should any urgent application be required in relation to that, and I am mindful that the school term starts in two weeks, then leave is granted to bring any urgent application. I do note and I have been reminded by counsel, that Jayden is currently under the guardianship of the Family Court.
That is my decision in relation to Jayden's care. He will advised by Ms Gunn and Ms Orr at the conclusion of this hearing, what the judge's decision has been. He will be returned to his father's care and the matter of longer-term care for Jayden will be examined at a later date.

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