A father-of-six returned home from work to find out he'd been banned from even entering the street where he had lived with his family for a decade – in a case described as 'Kafkaesque' by a High Court judge.
Mr Justice Jackson said the man at the centre of the family court case could have been forgiven for feeling like Josef K – the subject of Franz Kafka's 1925 novel The Trial - who was arrested and prosecuted without being told the crime he is supposed to have committed.
The father – referred to in court as Mr R - got home from work as normal on a Friday evening in June and was served with an order – obtained by his wife that day – which banned him from entering the street and seeing his kids.
He wasn't told about the order in advance, and had been given no chance to challenge it.
Detail of the case emerged in a ruling by Mr Justice Jackson – who sits in the Family Division of the High Court in London – following the latest round of the litigation.
The man's wife – Mrs R - consulted solicitors and complained that she was a victim of domestic abuse.
A deputy district judge subsequently made an order at a family court hearing – which Mr R knew nothing of and which could not have lasted for 'more than five minutes' – barring him from entering the street where he lived.
Mr Justice Jackson has raised a number of concerns about the litigation and said 11 steps in the legal process had been 'wrong'.
The judge said Mr R had tried to challenge the order but because of an 'insignificant procedural failing' his complaint had not been heard.
He said court powers had been used in a draconian fashion – and said at one point Mr R was even detained by police for a minor infringement of the order.
Mr Justice Jackson said: "He was arrested for an innocuous breach of the original order to which he pleaded guilty without receiving legal advice and in consequence acquired a criminal record.
"And as if that were not enough, the effect of the original order was to deprive him of contact with his children for fully five months.
"All in all, Mr R could be forgiven for feeling like the hapless protagonist in Kafka's The Trial."
The judge said the order barring Mr R from entering his street should not have been made.
And he said a judge faced with an application of which one side was unaware should always begin by asking 'why?' not 'why not?'
He added: "(Mr R) was given no effective opportunity to challenge it within a reasonable time.
"The court's case management powers were then used in a draconian way that compounded the injustice to an unrepresented party."
Mr Justice Jackson said he had allowed Mr R's appeal – and set aside previous orders – on the basis of the errors made in the legal process.
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