Two children were apprehended from their mother in July 1995. On August 17, 1995, on consent, the children were found in need of protection. On August 31, 1995, one of the children's father was given interim care and custody of the child, subject to supervision. The Society sought permanent care and custody of the other child. Under s. 41(1) of the Children and Family Services Act, a disposition hearing was required to be held within 90 days of the protection hearing. The disposition hearing was scheduled for November 16, 1995, the end of the 90-day time limit; thus, the parties agreed to extend the time limits to hear evidence and submissions. Counsel submissions were heard December 18, 1995. The judge's delivered his reserved decision six months and three weeks later. The Family Court judge purported to derive his authority from s. 8 of the Family Court Act, which provided that reserved decisions were to be given within six months from the time they were reserved. The appellant argued that court lost jurisdiction because the disposition was held beyond the 90 day time limit under the CFSA, and thus, the proceedings were a nullity.
- Did the Family Court lose jurisdiction because of the delay in disposition of the matter?
Freeman, with the other judges concurring but with separate reasons, held that the dispositions made were in the best interests of the children. When time limits conflicted with the best interests of the child, the legislation should be read to give a construction consistent with the best interests of the child. Here, the children were found in need of protection, which triggered the requirement that their interests be protected. The Family Court Judge's jurisdiction was preserved by a finding of fact that proceeding beyond the 90-day time limit was in the best interests of the children. It was an error of law for the Family Court judge to find that he was entitled to delay his disposition for the six months; however, this decision was not a nullity as the decision was in the best interests of the children.
When a strict reading of a statute results in an outcome which is not in the best interest of a child, the legislation should be interpreted in way which gives a construction compatible with their best interests.