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Insert appropriate Coldplay reference here *

 
CC (Adoption application : separated applicants) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4815.html

This is a decision of the High Court, relating to two married applicants who were married and living together when

(a) They were approved by the Local Authority as adopters
(b) The child was placed with them for adoption
(c) The application for adoption was lodged with the Court

BUT by the time the Court was considering whether to make the adoption application, they had separated.

This is quite an unusual situation – this is the third such reported case where this has happened and in each of them the Court has gone on to make an adoption order to both applicants determining that this is in the child’s interests.

In the first of these, Re WM (Adoption: Non-Patrial) [1997] 1 FLR 132 Johnson J was at pains to point out that

“I am not to be thought to have lent judicial support to the making of adoption orders in favour of separated couples as a general rule.”
[But, just as we saw with Re D earlier in the week, once the Court unstoppers the bottle for one case, that genie can be summoned up in others. The only way for a Judge NOT to make a precedent when doing something brand new, is to not report the case]
In this case, the statutory fly in the ointment was said to be section 42(7) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.
(7)An adoption order may not be made unless the court is satisfied that sufficient opportunities to see the child with the applicant or, in the case of an application by a couple, both of them together in the home environment have been given— .
(a)where the child was placed for adoption with the applicant or applicants by an adoption agency, to that agency, .
(b)in any other case, to the local authority within whose area the home is.
The Court recognised that the wording of the Act there is somewhat vague as to whether what is intended is that the Local Authority are able to see the child in the home AFTER the application is lodged in the preparation of their report, or whether they just need to have been able to see the child in the home of the adopters AFTER placement.

The latter was clearly met in this case, because the child had been with the adopters for a year before the application was made. The former was more tricky, since the adopters had split up fairly shortly after the application was lodged before the Court.

The Court say

There was some debate during the course of the hearing as to when the opportunities to see the child must have occurred. Must they have occurred after the adoption application has been made or can they have occurred before? There is no specific timeframe referred to in sub-section 7; it simply requires the court to be satisfied that there have been the requisite opportunities. I do not propose to deal with this issue because it is clear that, in this case, there have been ample opportunities for the local authority to see M with the applicants “together in the home environment” both before and after the application. Miss R has visited the home on many occasions. I am, accordingly, satisfied that the provisions of s. 42(7) are fulfilled.
And the Court being satisfied that there is no fly in the ointment, went on to consider the welfare checklist and give reasons why a joint adoption order is the right thing for the child.

[Incidentally, those reasons seem to give broad encouragement to anyone else in this position and would seem to support the making of a joint adoption order to anyone in a similar position in the future unless the separation was particularly acrimonious]

But were the Court looking for that fly in the right jar of ointment?

I suggest (and am grateful to Natasha Watson on this for doing all of the real brainpower and legwork) that the real legal difficulty here is in s50.

Section 50 is dealing with the circumstances in which an adoption order can be made – and then relies on a definition in s144(4).

[It was the most controversial and most debated clause of the Act – bearing in mind that this was back in 2000/2001, because it was the part of the Act that opened up the possibility of adoption by gay couples. I once had the misfortune to have to read all of the Parliamentary debates on the Adoption and Children Act and nearly 75% of the discussions were about this particular clause, so rest assured that this section had more scrutiny than any clause in modern Parliamentary history – it indisputably says what Parliament finally agreed it should say]

50 Adoption by couple.

(1)An adoption order may be made on the application of a couple where both of them have attained the age of 21 years. .
(2)An adoption order may be made on the application of a couple where— .
(a)one of the couple is the mother or the father of the person to be adopted and has attained the age of 18 years, and .
(b)the other has attained the age of 21 years.
If the Court are making an adoption order to two people, as here, it needs to be satisfied of two things :-

1. That they are both 21 or over (no problem in this case)
2. That they are a couple

The Act then defines “couple” for those purposes in s144(4)
(4)In this Act, a couple means— .
(a)a married couple, or .
(b)two people (whether of different sexes or the same sex) living as partners in an enduring family relationship.
At the time that the adoption order was being made, the two adopters here were married to one another, but were not living together. So they are married – but are they a “married couple” ?

In a common sense definition, could one really describe them as a “married couple” or even “a couple” ? If they aren’t, then they can’t have a joint adoption order.

Can you be a ‘married couple’ or described as ‘a couple’ once you’ve split up? Or are you a married couple until you get the decree absolute?
Do you want a concrete illustration? You may recall the news earlier this year that Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow had ‘consciously uncoupled’ and gone their separate ways. They are still married.

Are Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow a married couple?

If they aren’t, neither are these two adopters. And on that basis, the Court is not able legally to make an adoption order to both of them.

[The Court HAS, and it is done, and it will be added to the law books as authority for the Court doing this, and next time it happens it will be relied upon as authority for the Court to do it again – but unless you would really describe Chris and Gwyneth as a ‘married couple’ then it would be a mistake in law]

Another issue that arises in relation to this is that if we are going to describe two married people who no longer live together or wish to as “a married couple” than we no longer have equality.

Look at the second limb of s144(4)
b)two people (whether of different sexes or the same sex) living as partners in an enduring family relationship.
If we are going to say that two people who are married continue to be a ‘married couple’ until they divorce, then we are no longer treating married people and people in an enduring family relationship the same.

Because married people can split up and still get the adoption order, but cohabiting people can’t.

If two people in an enduring family relationship make the adoption application and then break up before the order is made, then they would not satisfy s50.

You can’t be in an ‘enduring’ relationship once there’s a separation. By definition, it hasn’t endured.

Thus, the Court is discriminating (IF we are saying that Chris and Gwyneth are still a married couple) in favour of married people in a way that they wouldn’t do in relation to two people who were cohabiting.

[See THIS article in the Daily Mail
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2800896/marriage-no-better-cohabiting-legal-rights-abolished-adulterous-judge.html

for judicial differences of opinion as to whether married people and cohabiting people ought to have the same rights. I take no responsibility for your sense of moral well-being or compassion after reading a piece in the Daily Mail. I can save you the trouble and say that the Mail is more on the side of Coleridge (marriage is best) as opposed to Mostyn (we should stop favouring marriage over cohabitation in law) and decide that the best way to sift this debate is to indulge in personal attacks.  If Coleridge J is the sort of person to keep a scrapbook, he might have been reaching for the bottle of Gloy Gum for this one ]
I suppose that the next Court to tackle this issue can say that for the purposes of s50 and s144(4) two people who are married remain “a married couple” until such time as they divorce.

After all, just this month we have seen Judges decide that article 8 of the Human Rights Act doesn’t apply to the Court deciding private law proceedings (re Y http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed134192 – even when the Court of Appeal expressly said otherwise in Re A ) and that if a clause in statute says “must” that can be simply ignored – (Re X.
http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/3135.html )

 

 

Now, I can put an image in here – the two obvious competing ones are a nice photo of Chris Martin’s new paramour, or a bottle of Gloy Gum.

 

oh joy, it's gloy!
*Re the title, the piece is obviously crying out for a lyric or song title from Coldplay, but I’m afraid that I subscribe to the Alan McGee school of thought that they are ‘indie bedwetters” and thus I don’t have a glib reference.

Nothing else will do? A head-scratcher

 
The Court of Appeal’s decision in Re W (Children) 2014

http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed134050

This was an appeal by the mother in relation to the Judge’s decision to make Care and Placement Orders in relation to the youngest three children of a sibling group of nine.

As we all know, the Court can’t make those orders (post Re B and Re B-S) unless satisfied that “nothing else will do”.

This appeal was refused, and leaves me scratching my head about what is actually meant any more by “nothing else will do”
The nub of this appeal was really that the children’s existing foster carers would consider putting themselves forward to permanently care for the children. That might be either as adopters or as Special Guardians.

The mother had been asking for the Court to adjourn the hearing, to have an assessment of those foster carers as Special Guardians.

That application was refused and the Court had gone on to make Placement Orders.

Now, the critical thing here for Re B-S and “nothing else will do” is that here there is a valid and viable placement option – placement with the current carers as Special Guardians, which would not have been expressly considered within the social worker’s Re B-S analysis, and which is an option which would have to be explicitly ruled out by the Court in order to say that “nothing else but adoption would do”

[There was, I am sure, an argument that even if these carers were to care for the children that it should be under Adoption rather than Special Guardianship, but the Re B-S formulation suggests that the Court isn’t looking at whether adoption is BETTER than the other options or has advantages or lacks the disadvantages of the alternatives, but that each of the other realistic options is ruled out. It has never been really clear to what standard the Court is supposed to be ruling them out – but “nothing else will do” is NOT the same as “nothing else is quite as good as adoption”]

The other complication here is that the Guardian, in written evidence, was AGAINST the making of Placement Orders and in support of the current carers caring for the children permanently. It appears that the Guardian shifted their position during the final hearing (and by shifted, I mean “did a reverse ferret” )

“Following discussions with the Local Authority, an amendment to the care plan has been proposed which provides for the Local Authority to assess the foster carers as adopters. The guardian was clear that even if these foster carers are not approved as adopters and if it means that D has to be separated from G and M, he still considered, following his analysis, that adoption was the right and only option available for these children.”

24. That summary of the guardian’s position is of note because it is in apparent contrast to the guardian’s position in writing as recently as 12 January 2014, a week or so before the hearing commenced, having summarised the position of the children and the three younger children and in particular highlighted the priority that the guardian gave to the benefit achieved from their current foster home.

25. The guardian says this at paragraph 62:

“That opinion, therefore, is, at this time, not to support the placement order application of the Local Authority naming D, G and M. The current foster carers are willing to care for all three children in the long term and have been seen as very capable of meeting the children’s needs to date.”

26. Then in his recommendations, the guardian is express. He says:

“I recommend that the court does not make a placement order on naming D, G and M. However, I reserve the right to change this position until after I have heard the evidence and opinions of Dr Butler and she having read this, my final report.”
Dr Butler, the child and adolescent psychiatrist who had reported in the case, had provided a very clear written report on the issue of whether the children could be placed at home with mother, but had not got into the merits of the various other forms of ORDER.

It seems that Dr Butler had been asked about this in oral evidence.

19. The judge then concluded her summary of Dr Butler’s evidence with respect to the younger three children in the second part of paragraph 29 where the judgment says this:

“As far as D, G and M are concerned, Dr Butler thought it would be helpful if they could stay in their current placement. She would be concerned about separating them for adoption. She said that they have survived as a sibling group. They all need therapeutic work some form of play therapy. She was clear in her oral evidence that only adoption would give them the stability they need.”

20. All, save the last sentence, of that quotation is a almost direct lift word for word from the concluding paragraphs of Dr Butler’s report. The key sentence for the context of this appeal is the last one where the judge records the doctor as being clear in her oral evidence that “only adoption” would give the children the stability that they need.

21. Dr Butler’s report, whilst analysing the children’s position very clearly, does not actually descend to an opinion one way or the other on the issue of adoption or long term fostering or some other form of placement. All we have in this court in terms of the evidence of Dr Butler on this point is, firstly, this sentence in the judge’s judgment and, secondly, a copy of counsel for the Local Authority’s handwritten notes taken during the hearing which in particular obviously does not include any question and answer record of counsel’s own cross examination of the doctor.
So, going into the hearing, in their written evidence, both the Guardian and Dr Butler were saying that the best thing for the children would be to remain in their current placement. (But in oral evidence, although the details are sparse, both said adoption was the right thing for the children, although the reasoning is not very well set out and the Judge largely bases the conclusions on the position of those two witnesses)

The mother was saying that if they could not come back to her, she would want the children to remain in their current placement – she would prefer any form of order other than adoption. If there HAD to be adoption, she would want it to be with the current carers, rather than with strangers.

The Local Authority position was that there should be adoption – they would do an assessment of the current carers but only as adopters – if they were approved as adopters that would be Plan A. But if they were not approved as adopters, Plan B would be to find other adopters NOT to look at different orders that would allow the children to stay with those carers.
Now, there might be a raft of reasons why the Judge eventually preferred the evidence of the Local Authority and decided that this really was a case where “nothing else would do” other than adoption, but if that’s the case there needs to be some very heavy lifting done in the judgment.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Court of Appeal have to say this about the judgment

31. Some time ago I indicated the narrow focus of this appeal and the concern expressed by my Lord Jackson LJ in granting permission to appeal. The concern is one that, on the papers, I share. It arises from the difficulty that any reader of the judgment has in understanding two matters. First of all, what it was that Dr Butler and, in turn, the children’s guardian said in oral evidence which justified, in Dr Butler’s case, at least a clarification of her view that adoption was the only option and, in the guardian’s case, a change from his position of not supporting the placement applications to holding that in any circumstances adoption was the only order for these children. The second related difficulty that any reader of the judgment has is understanding what it was that the judge thought about these matters as leading in her view to making these final orders, particularly in the context of the outstanding, albeit recently identified, need to assess the foster carers. Rhetorically, the question is asked: why was it necessary to make the final orders on this occasion?
When you look at some of the successful appeals in relation to Placement Orders (I think particularly of the one where both parents were in prison at the time the orders were made), this case looks to have successful appeal written all over it. If you read the judgment and can’t see how the Judge reached the conclusions at the end, then post Re B-S, that’s the sort of judgment that gets overturned. Or rather, it WAS.

There was an option before the Court that was substantially less draconian than adoption by strangers, and to rule out that option would surely have needed rigorous analysis.

Instead, the Court at first instance seemed to have placed very heavy emphasis on adoption being the only form of order that would prevent the mother disrupting the placement.

[It MIGHT be that this was a mother who had been going to the foster home, being undermining and abusive, making phone calls or sending letters – that isn’t set out in the extracts of the judgment that we have been given in this report though, and surely it would be. So we can discount that as a possibility. There MIGHT be circumstances where the risk of mother disrupting a long-term foster placement or Special Guardianship Order with these carers was simply unmanageable, but it would need to be spelled out why the Court couldn’t control this with all of the legal remedies (s91(14) orders, non-molestation orders) at its disposal]
In any event, there seems very little weighing up of the proportionality issue and that the Court should be looking for the least interventionist form of order where possible. Unless the risk of disruption was so high and utterly unmanageable, that’s a feature of adoption which is beneficial or advantageous to be put into the balancing exercise, not a determinative factor, surely?
42. If the judge’s judgment were the only material available, it is a document upon which it is hard to rely in terms of gaining any detail as to what it was that Dr Butler said about adoption and why it was that the guardian changed his opinion. The court has made efforts to try and obtain transcripts, but they have come to nothing. The note of counsel takes matters so far, but does not provide in anyway a total answer. Yet the appeal has to be determined. In particular, there is now a pressing need for the appeal to be determined because of the prospect of the children being matched, if the appeal is unsuccessful, with these prospective adopters. I considered countenancing an adjournment to obtain a transcript, but to my mind, that is not necessary.

To be honest, I had always considered that this was the real thrust of Re B-S and the successful appeals that followed – that the Court of Appeal looks at the judgment and if the reason for making the orders is not robust and rigorous within the document, then the judgment is wrong.
In this case, the judgment sets out that the Judge agreed with the Guardian and expert that nothing else but adoption would do, but doesn’t set out WHY either of those witnesses reach that conclusion (particularly since the Guardian was saying something different in writing), or WHY the Judge agreed. The Court of Appeal, for reasons that aren’t plain to me, decided that was okay.

This appears to me to be the strongest appeal since Re B-S was decided, but although many rather flimsy appeals have been granted, this one has been refused.

The reasoning appears to be that although the judgment as delivered is somewhat sparse, the parties did not invite the Judge to fill in the gaps. (that’s not something that was mooted in the flimsier successful appeals)

45. So while it does seem to me that although this court lacks the precise detail of the actual words used by these two key witnesses, we are entitled to take as the baseline the judge’s summary of what was said. It is absolutely clear in the terms that I have described. So having gone into the matter in more detail than was possible on the occasion that my Lord considered the permission application, I am satisfied that the judge must have had the clear professional oral evidence in the terms that she has summarised, which, in turn, enabled her to consider the options for these three children.

46. I therefore turn to the lack of reasons given in the judgment. This court has from time to time had to consider the absence or submitted absence of full judicial reasoning in cases across the civil justice spectrum, but perhaps particularly in the context of family justice.
47. There are a number of relevant authorities, but the most convenient is that of Re: B (Appeal: Lack of Reasons) [2003] EWCA Civ 881, the decision of this court presided over by Thorpe LJ and Bodey J in 2003. They had the benefit of a judgment given one year earlier by my Lady Arden LJ in the case of Re: T (Contact: Alienation: Permission to Appeal) [2002] EWCA Civ 1736. In the course of that judgment, my Lady considered the applicability of the ordinary civil authority English v Emery Reimbold & Strick Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 605 to family cases. My Lady held that there was no distinction to be drawn on the question of principle as to the need for the requests to be made to judges at first instance to amplify their reasons in family cases just as in civil cases.

48. The law report is available to all. I do not intend to lengthen this judgment by repeating what my Lady said in Re: T, save to quote from paragraph 41 to this extent. My Lady said this:

“It would be unsatisfactory to use an omission by a judge to deal with a point in a judgment as grounds for an application for appeal if the matter has not been brought to the judge’s attention when there was a ready opportunity so to do. Unnecessary costs and delay may result.”

49. That approach was unsurprisingly endorsed by Thorpe LJ in the course of his judgment in the later case of Re: B. He in turn at paragraph 11 said this:

“No doubt I have hesitated as to how best to respond to these submissions. I regard a number of the criticisms of the judgment as ignoring the seniority and experience of this judge. No doubt a judge recently appointed or only recently inducted to public law would not reach the milestones and signposts to ensure that no essential stage of the process is overlooked or truncated… But there is a huge virtue in brevity in of judgment… The more experienced the judge, the more likely it is that he may display the virtue of brevity. Certainly it is not incumbent upon the judge to adopt some formula of a judgment or simply to parrot statutory provisions. For my part, I would say that the essential test is: does the judgment sufficiently explain what the judge has found and what he has concluded as well as the process of reasoning by which he has arrived at his findings and then his conclusions?”

50. The judge in this case, as I have described in the quotations from her judgment that I have set out, gives short reasons and, in effect, identifies her reasoning as being at one with that of Dr Butler and the children’s guardian.

51. They in turn conclude that the only option is adoption. If a true reasons challenge was to be mounted in relation to this judgment, the proper course to be adopted would have been to go back to the judge at the permission to appeal stage before the first instance judge, which I do not think was undertaken in this case, and to raise the reasons challenge and to invite the judge to enlarge upon the reasons that she has given. That simply was not a step that was taken here. Insofar as the mother was a litigant in person, she is not to be criticised for that, but the reality is that step was not taken. It was not taken at a later stage when, for a time, the mother had the benefit of some legal representation.

 

 

Re W makes it even more difficult than it already was (and it was already extremely difficult) to hazard a guess at how the Court of Appeal will decide any appeal on a Placement Order. Which in turn makes it even harder for the Court at first instance to know what the Court of Appeal expect to see in a bullet-proof judgment. And harder for advocates to advise their clients on the merits of an appeal and prospects of success.

I think that there MIGHT be cases where the Court could reject a plan of long-term fostering or Special Guardianship with the current carers and decide that “nothing else but adoption will do” – it will depend heavily on the circumstances of the case. But it is clearly a considerably difficult hurdle to surmount and the judgment would need to reflect the rigorous and robust analysis of why the current carers are not an option, and the judgment would need to be cogent as to the reasons for that decision.

Correction – the last sentence there is how I would have IMAGINED the law to be, but post Re W, who knows any more?

I am slightly surprised (to put it mildly) that the appeal did not dwell more on the judicial refusal of the application for an adjournment in light of Re MF – finding out whether these carers could keep these children seems to me to be a piece of information whose absence does prevent the Court from resolving the proceedings justly and that the adjournment was necessary.

The Court of Appeal simply say this (in effect – because the Judge was in favour of adoption, it wasn’t a piece of information that the Judge needed. Again, scratching my head on that one)
64. The judge in the present case was plain that the expert and professional evidence was to the effect that only adoption would do for these three children. That was also the judge’s conclusion. Therefore, in my view, as a matter of structure and of law it would not have been open to the judge to contemplate the court carrying on to oversee the assessment process of the foster carers if a placement for adoption order was to be granted at the end of the day.

65. The working out of the plan for the assessment of the foster carers and the development of an alternative plan if they were not acceptable as long term carers for the children were matters and should be matters for the Local Authority under the placement for adoption order and the care order and not for the court. So as a matter of structure, I am not persuaded by Ms Jones’ submissions.

66. In any event, we would only be able to intervene and overturn the judge’s conclusion on this point if we were satisfied that the judge was “wrong” and that she had acted in a disproportionate manner in making a placement for adoption order at this stage without proper regard to the Article 8 rights of the children, which may well include the relationship they have with the current foster carers. It simply is not open, in my view, to the mother in this case to sustain that submission.

67. The evidence before the judge was that adoption was what was required. It was necessary to take a decision at that stage partly to avoid delay, but partly to achieve clarity. On the evidence before the judge which she accepted, no other outcome other than the adoption of these children was justified unless that could not be achieved. Therefore, there was no benefit for the children in holding back from making a final order at that stage. It was the only tenable outcome of the case on the evidence and on the findings of the judge. So even within the compass of the appeal as it was on paper before my Lord when he gave permission and this court before we had the extra information from the Local Authority, I would refuse the appeal on that basis.

 

As more general practice for appeals, the Court of Appeal put down this marker about transcripts of evidence
70. I wish to add brief comments on one procedural issue. From time to time when this court grants permission to appeal, it directs that the evidence of a particular witness be obtained. If the appeal concerns the adoption of children, it is by definition an urgent matter and the hearing will be listed at an early date. Indeed, as here, the court granting permission to appeal may direct an expedited hearing.

71. In such a case, the parties must use their best endeavours to obtain any transcript of evidence which is required as soon as possible. If, as here, the transcript cannot be obtained in time, then solicitors and counsel should co operate in producing a composite note of the relevant evidence.

72. That did not happen in this case. Instead, part way through the hearing today, counsel for the Local Authority stood up and informed us that she had a note of the evidence given by Dr Butler and the guardian. In those circumstances, the hearing was adjourned for 40 minutes so that counsel’s note could be photocopied and considered by all present. I say at once that counsel’s note of the evidence is clear and extremely helpful, although it does not include her cross examination of the two witnesses. I am grateful for the copy of that note which we have received.

73. Nevertheless, in any future case where a necessary transcript of evidence is not obtained in time for the hearing, then any available notes of the relevant evidence must be circulated in advance to all parties and the court. That will avoid any risk of ambush. Also, it will avoid the need for an adjournment in the middle of the hearing of the appeal.

 

 

So, just as the President has shown us in Re X that “must” in a statute means “ah, just ignore that bit”,  the Court of Appeal have now shown us that when they said in Re B-S that “nothing” else will do, they didn’t mean that a possible placement with existing carers under an SGO or long-term fostering could be SOMETHING else that might do. They meant an entirely different kind of nothing.

 

This wouldn’t be  teh interwebs if I didn’t use that as an excuse for the Inigo Montoya meme.

 

No, I am NOT the Red Viper of Dorne

No, I am NOT the Red Viper of Dorne

Making eye to eye contact (post adoption contact applications, some practical queries)

 

I’ve previously written about the relatively new provisions of the Children and Families Act 2014 that allow a birth parent to apply for direct contact even years after the adoption order was made.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/03/16/applying-for-contact-after-a-child-is-adopted/

 

I’m grateful to regular reader and commenter, Jerry Lonsdale, for posing me some questions that I didn’t know the answers to, and thus for making me go and find unexpected answers.

The provisions are set out in a new clause s51A of the Adoption and Children Act 2002

In order to make the application, a parent would need to obtain leave of the Court, and the Act sets out the things that the Court would need to consider.
S51 (5)In deciding whether to grant leave under subsection (4)(c), the court must consider— .
(a)any risk there might be of the proposed application disrupting the child’s life to such an extent that he or she would be harmed by it (within the meaning of the 1989 Act), .
(b)the applicant’s connection with the child, and .
(c)any representations made to the court by— .
(i)the child, or .
(ii)a person who has applied for the adoption order or in whose favour the adoption order is or has been made.
[It might have been helpful, given the wrangle that has previously taken place about whether leave to oppose adoption or leave to revoke a Placement order applications are applications to which the welfare paramountcy test applies for Parliament to have made that explicit. I think, though I would not put money on it, that when deciding the application for LEAVE, that the welfare of the child is a paramount consideration.]
We are probably getting the first of these applications made at present (and I’m aware that there is one such case in the High Court where the practical issues are becoming exposed)
In terms of practical issues, let’s look at them in turn – this has been a valuable exercise, because one element that looked very problematic when I first considered it has actually resolved on very close inspection. It might save someone else the detective legwork in the future.
1. How does the birth parent serve the adopters?

The birth parent won’t know the adopters address and nobody is going to tell them it. The Court MIGHT know it, if they were the Court who dealt with the adoption and they still have the file; assuming that the adopters have not moved since the adoption order was made. The other option might be for the Court to ask the Local Authority to serve the adopters – assuming that the Local Authority are willing to get involved and that the Local Authority have an address for the adopters. (Adopters aren’t obliged to keep a Local Authority informed of any change of address – they MIGHT, if they have a good relationship with their support worker or if they are receiving financial support)

You can’t go ahead with the application if the adopters aren’t served, because (a) that’s going to result in article 6 breach to the adopters and (b) The Court is obliged to consider the views of the adopters.
So not having a solid practical solution to that aspect is somewhat troubling.

If the adopters happen to have moved overseas since the adoption order was made, it is not at all clear to me that the provision would have any force at all.
2. Who is a party to the application for leave?
Well, the birth parent making the application is a party. The adopters would be a party, as respondents. And erm, that’s it.

The Local Authority are not a party to proceedings. They no longer hold any order in relation to the child, since the making of the Adoption Order ends their Care Order.

These applications are NOT specified proceedings for the purposes of section 41 (6) of the Children Act 1989 , and are thus not proceedings for which a Guardian is automatically appointed.
As we already established that applications under s51A don’t attract public funding (unless the applicant or respondent can convince the Legal Aid agency to give them ‘exceptional’ funding under s10 LASPO, which is as likely as Alex Salmond inviting David Cameron to rule Scotland by his side at the end of the month – perhaps wearing a Darth Vader costume) both the birth parent and the adopter will probably be litigants in person.

As such, neither of them will really fully grasp the test and the nuances and if we ever get any case law on it, won’t know it. Not their fault, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t bright or articulate, just that this whole thing is pretty impenetrable AND brand-new.

Probably neither of them will have a full set of the previous adoption papers and care proceedings – the adopters certainly won’t. The parents might, if they kept hold of them for a few years and ever had a complete set anyway.

So a Judge will be faced with two litigants in person (and a set of litigants who almost certainly won’t want to come into contact with each other), who don’t have the past papers and won’t know the law and process.
2(a) Options to get other people involved

The Court could invite the Local Authority to become a party. That would be an invitation – the LA can’t be forced to become a party. One would hope that the LA take up that invitation, but they might not. They might consider that the adoption was years ago and that everyone who knew the case is long gone, they might think that the adopters are from another part of the country miles away and that it would be better for THAT LA to be involved rather than them, the birth parents and adopters might not be living in that particular Local Authority by the time the application gets made, they might just be short-staffed and poorly funded or bloody minded.

If the Court invites the LA and they decline, I had initially thought that this was the end of it. It is not!

Rule 14.3 Family Procedure Rules 2010 (the section relating to any application under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which this would be)

14 (3) The court may at any time direct that—
(a) any other person or body be made a respondent to proceedings; or
(b) a party be removed.

The Court therefore has the power to MAKE a Local Authority be a Respondent to such an application. And once they are a Respondent, the Court can make them file documents, skeletons, statements etc.

The application isn’t specified proceedings, but the Court can still appoint a Guardian, by appointing the child as a party under rule 14.2 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and then appointing a Guardian to represent the child.
(2) The court may at any time direct that a child, who is not already a respondent to proceedings,
be made a respondent to proceedings where—
(a) the child—
(i) wishes to make an application; or
(ii) has evidence to give to the court or a legal submission to make which has not been
given or made by any other party; or
(b) there are other special circumstances.

[You can’t do it under Rule 16.4, because that expressly excludes doing so in an application under the Adoption and Children Act 2002, so rule 14.2 is the solution]
You can of course still get the difficult situation where Local Authority A dealt with the care proceedings, the child is placed with adopters in Local Authority area B, and by the time of the adoption the birth parents are living in Local Authority area C. Which Local Authority does the Court make a Respondent? Which of the three areas provides a Guardian?

 

3. How does the Court make the enquiries about the risk of the application being disruptive / the benefits of it?

 

Well, it becomes substantially easier if the LA and Guardian are drawn into the mix. The Court can direct that those agencies carry out an assessment and provide a report.

If they are not made parties, the obvious solution that occurred to me was that they be directed prepare a section 7 report, but there is no power to do that on a s51A application for contact.

Section 7 of the Children Act 1989 (the power for the Court to direct that the Local Authority or CAFCASS provide a report to the Court advising on contact) applies to applications made under the Children Act 1989, and s51A applications aren’t.
4. What is the test going to be ?
Historically, the senior Courts have always made heavy weather of “leave” applications – they have always wanted to add gloss to the statute – often so much gloss that the test that one ends up with bears little relationship to the statute itself. You only have to look at the variety of judicial shorthand guidance on “leave to be joined as a party” in care proceedings – we have had everything from ‘arguable case’ to ‘strong arguable case’ to ‘strong prospect of success’ to ‘not vexatious, frivolous or fanciful’ and we now have the Court of Appeal guidance that one has to frankly forget all of the previous shorthand and guidance and just go back to what it says in the statute as factors to be considered and add in the human rights principles of right to family life, proportionality and right to fair trial.

But we do have slightly different tests for “leave to be joined as a party”  (which is the “it’s the Act, stupid” test), “leave to revoke a placement order” (which is still officially Warwickshire, though everyone really thinks it ought to be identical to B-S) and “leave to oppose adoption” (which is B-S)

Which of those tests, if any, is going to apply to these applications?

Does the historical law on making a contact order post adoption still apply? (in essence don’t make a contact order if the adopters are agreeing to the contact and don’t make a contact order in the teeth of opposition from the adopters – leaving only a tiny patch of possible contact orders in wholly exceptional cases)

Is there a presumption that contact is good? Or a presumption that the status quo should prevail? Are either rebuttable presumptions? Or is it a completely blank sheet of paper?

Who the heck knows?

 

Machetes, body armour and social work bashing

 

Oh, that’s a clickbait title if ever there was one. The case in question does contain all of that stuff though.
Re IMA (care proceedings :no threshold) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B110.html

This is a set of care proceedings heard in Manchester County Court, but it raises some important issues of wider importance.

It was a case in which the Local Authority obtained an Emergency Protection Order removing IMA in August 2013, and after that Interim Care Orders sanctioning IMA remaining in foster care, up until the final hearing, which took place in August 2014 a year after the initial removal.

The Local Authority had been seeking a plan of adoption, supported by the Guardian, but this had changed to permanent placement with a relative. It is of note that the plan of adoption had been supported by the Agency Decision Makers (whose job it is to assess separately to social workers whether the circumstances of an individual case mean that adoption is the right plan)

The Judge at final hearing found that the threshold criteria were not made out, and thus the child would be going home and no statutory orders would be made.

The threshold criteria was based on the risk of the child being exposed to domestic violence (which is, on the revised wording of the Children Act 1989 a matter which on its own is capable of meeting threshold). That had two aspects really (i) Was father a risk of violence or violent behaviour and (ii) was the child in mother’s care going to be exposed to the father.

The fact that the Judge found that threshold was not met therefore was significant. This wasn’t a case with a suspicious injury which on full investigation was found to be an accident or a peculiar medical condition, but rather that the child ought never really to have been removed. The Judge was not saying that the threshold HAD been met but due to changes the risks had dissipated or become manageable, but that the situation of this family had NEVER crossed the section 31 threshold.

And the Judge had advised the Local Authority in a number of hearings that he was concerned that the section 31 threshold was not made out on the evidence that they had presented and was giving them the opportunity to flesh out their evidence if they had more information which was not before the Court. He told them that on 17th February 2014, 14th April 2014 and 23rd June, before making it official at the final hearing by ruling that threshold was not met.
The Judge starts off scathing and continues in that vein

These proceedings concern a new born baby who has never suffered any harm in his parents’ care. If he has suffered any harm to date, it is the loss of the relationship with his mother during the first year of his life due to the fact that he was removed from her care when he was a week old.
The Court did say that the LA were not wrong to have brought the case, but hints strongly that they were wrong not to have taken stock after any of those hearings where the Court indicated that they considered satisfying s31 threshold to be an issue.

133. There is no suggestion that the local authority has not acted in good faith in seeking to bring the proceedings relating to IMA before the court. The court accepts that the local authority was bound to consider and act on the information provided by the police. The question, however, arises as to whether a more experienced social worker would have acted with greater circumspection and sought to clarify the factual basis for the “intelligence” he was given and its accuracy. This should have been apparent when the father was released from custody and bailed for further enquiry on the 19th August and should have resulted in the social worker re-evaluating the Children’s Services position. None of the information provided by the police as disclosed to this court and the parties appeared to establish that he was a direct risk to a child or children and, it seems to me, on my analysis of the evidence available open to question as to what the “emergency” was that justified the application for the Emergency Protection Order.

A major part of the Local Authority’s case was that the father’s convictions established that first part of their threshold – that he presented a risk. [In large part, that was because there was no evidence of any domestic violence in the relationship between mother and father – no injuries, no police call outs, no referrals from neighbours, no allegations from either of them] They were relying on two things – firstly the father’s convictions and secondly the history of domestic violence in his previous relationship
The Judge took a very different view as to whether the criminal convictions in themselves established that father was a risk. A major part of that was that offences which looked on paper very serious received such light sentences that the Judge (who sits as a criminal Judge) brought his experience to bear in saying that one had to treat the offences on paper in the light of the very light sentences – they cannot have been at the high end of the spectrum of those offences.
51. In reviewing the evidence, it is I think pertinent to remind myself that both the mother and the father have criminal records. The records for the mother appear at F6-12 and F131-137 in the bundle and for the father at F13-19 and F124-130. The mother has convictions for robbery and racially threatening and abusive behaviour in December 2007 in respect of which she received a custodial sentence of a 12 month Detention and Training Order. She was then aged 15. She is now 22. Her subsequent convictions are for what might be property described as minor offences and failing to comply with the requirements of community orders imposed as sentences. It is self-evident from the nature of the convictions, that she is not likely to respond well when attempts are made by those in authority to impose on her. It is unclear to me whether the social worker ever appreciated that.

52. The father has 3 convictions between 2000 and 2006 for offences involving possession of offensive weapons for which he has received sentences of a fine and community orders. None of those could properly be described by anyone who has a knowledge and understanding of criminal justice as serious offences. He has other convictions for disorderly behaviour and driving offences which demonstrate that he is something of a social nuisance. In 2010 he was sentenced to two separate terms of suspended imprisonment for dangerous driving and benefit fraud. In May 2011 he was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for offences of possession of class B controlled drugs – cannabis – with intent to supply. Finally, there is a conviction for an offence of harassment on the 10th December 2013 in respect of which he was made the subject of a community order with an unpaid work requirement and a restraining order. This conviction relates to his former partner, RK. I will say more about this later. These convictions are of course a matter of record and are not disputed by either the mother or the father. The issue, as will become apparent, is how they have been interpreted and relied on by the local authority to substantiate the ‘threshold criteria’ it contends for.
By the time of the final hearing, the Local Authority’s threshold document was as follows (I commend the Judge for including it in full, it is extremely helpful when this is done, as one can then see the basis on which the case is put)

MAA is the father, JG the mother.
142 “The nature of the likelihood of harm alleged is expressed as “(i) Impairment to the child’s physical, intellectual, emotional, social and behavioural development; (ii) Impairment to the child’s physical and mental health; and (ii) Impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another.
(1) The father, MAA, has an extensive criminal history. This includes:-

(a) Possession of a machete in 2001;
(b) Arrested 8 February 2006 in possession of a knuckle duster, wearing body armour and in a car with 4 other men similarly equipped; drugs found at his home
(c) Drugs offences including possession, intent to supply and cultivation of cannabis for which he served a 13 month prison sentence in 2011
(2) On 19 August 2013, the day of IMA’s birth, MAA was arrested at the hospital in relation to an offence which took place on 29 November 2012 when he and two other males were alleged to have attacked an acquaintance and driven off in his car with the victim’s legs hanging out of the open door; a considerable quantity of cannabis was found in the boot. The case was not proceeded with by the CPS

(3) In 2013, MAA pursued a campaign of harassment against his ex-wife, involving regularly attending at her home threatening her, threatening violence to any new boyfriend, and stating he would persuade Children’s Services to remove her children from her
(4) She was so frightened that she moved into a women’s refuge with her children for 4 weeks in August 2013. (On a further 10 occasions recorded between 2 September and 8 October 2013 he visited her home and made similar threats)
(5) MAA was arrested on 13 October 2013 and charged with harassment. MAA’s ex-wife gave a police statement in which she stated that he had been violent towards her during their relationship as well as extremely controlling and she had been “terrified” by him.
(6) Following a strategy meeting on 13 August 2013, when JG was identified as a vulnerable person who may be at risk from MAA, a joint police and social work visit caused further concern when MAA would not provide his name, and refused to accept any concerns or co-operate with any form of assessment. JG took the same position. It was therefore not possible to obtain a clear assessment of any risk posed by MAA due to the failure of the parents to engage with Children’s Services either during the first visit or thereafter. This attitude of complete non-co-operation continued.
(7) JG failed to allow social workers into her home to discuss the issues, minimised the seriousness of previous domestic violence incidents and criminal drugs history involving MAA and refused to sign a working agreement.
(8) Although she agreed to reside at her parents’ home following her discharge from hospital with IMA in August 2013, neither JG nor IMA were at home when agencies visited on 3 consecutive days between 9am and 10am.
(9) JG’s refusal to engage in assessment or to accept any possibility of risk, despite information provided to her, demonstrated that she was unable and/or unwilling to prioritise IMA’s safety and protect him.
(10) Following the making of an emergency protection order on 23 August 2013, JG and MAA evaded the attention of police and Children’s Services until 25 August 2013 when they were eventually found at a property in Prestwich. Both their families colluded in the family hiding from agencies.

(11) There is evidence that the parents were involved in drug dealing activity at least up until IMA’s birth, as also found at the property in Prestwich were a further quantity of cannabis, drug paraphernalia and paperwork implicating the couple in fraud and money laundering offences. Although the CPS have not proceeded against MAA, JG faces criminal charges in relation to intent to supply cannabis, 165g having been found at the property.
Whilst that looks, on the face of it like a pretty decent threshold to establish that MAA (the father) posed a risk of harm -there’s a recent offence, offences including weapons, violent and controlling behaviour towards a former partner and that being recent, we already know that threshold was not found. So we need to see why.

The Judge deals with those matters in the following way (that is, in short, to reject all of them as being made out)

143. In respect of this amended threshold document I make the following observations and findings based on my assessment of all the evidence which has been put before the court –
(1) The father’s convictions are a matter of record which, absent specific offences involving harm to children or violence to women with whom he is or was in a relationship, have no relevance for the purpose of threshold and relate only to the character and personality of the father and not to parental care. This paragraph should be struck out.
(2) Given that the police took no further action against the father in respect of these allegations and did not prosecute him, none of what is alleged in this paragraph can be established as a fact. This paragraph should be struck out.
(3) So far as paragraphs (3), (4) and (5) are concerned, the issues cited post date the local authority intervention in respect of IMA. The issues raised relate to the father’s character and personality and not directly to any aspect of parental care relevant to IMA. These paragraphs should be struck out.
(4) A refusal to co-operate with Children’s Services (or the police) as identified at paragraphs (6), (7), (8) (9) and (10) does not go to threshold as there is no legal duty to co-operate unless the threshold is crossed. See Lady Hale at paragraph 207 of In the matter of B (A Child). These five paragraphs should be struck out.

(5) In respect of paragraph (11), any evidence of alleged drug dealing cannot go to threshold unless there is clearly established factual link to demonstrate that there is likelihood that a child will suffer harm resulting from a failing in parental care arising from such activity. There is no such evidence against either parent it being noted that, in any event, the father has not been charged with any offences arising from the circumstances related. This paragraph should be struck out.
If you are keeping count, the Judge struck out every paragraph of the Local Authority’s final threshold document. The whole lot, gone.

(The Local Authority did not appeal this decision. I think that they COULD have done on points 3, 4 and 5 – these are surely ‘risks that cannot sensibly be ignored’ and they go to the heart of ‘is the father a risk of domestic violence’)

I have reviewed the evidence in this case and have borne in mind all the guidance for the Supreme Court set out above in arriving at my conclusion which is that I do not find the ‘threshold criteria’ established for the purposes of section 31.
I am acutely aware of the consequences of any finding that the ‘threshold criteria’ is not made out and especially in proceedings which have been ongoing for as long as these because of the impact and implications such a finding has for the child and parents. On any view, a finding that the ‘threshold criteria’ is not made out self evidently means that not only has a considerable disservice been suffered by the parents and the child but also an injustice given the way in which these proceedings have been conducted and the length of time the proceedings have been ongoing. That, however, is no basis to shrink from doing what I consider to be right for the child, IMA, on the basis of the evidence before me which I can properly accept.
The Judge did identify that there were issues and concerns, but that these fell short of satisfying the threshold

47. Both the local authority and the children’s guardian rightly have criticisms in relation to the parents’ failure to co-operate and their lack of openness and honesty in their dealings with professionals. In fairness to the mother it has to be said that she did engage with the proceedings and the assessment undertaken by the psychologist and co-operated with the children’s guardian in his enquiries. She engaged with the local authority assessment and attended al the sessions as required despite her apparently limited understanding of what the assessment was for. She has made a very strong commitment to contact with IMA albeit there have sometimes been issues around her timeliness. She has been available at contact if the social worker has ever wanted to contact her and I have some difficulties now reflecting on the evidence as to why the social worker did not on occasions make more effort to go to see her at the contact venue if he needed to discuss issues with her. It is, I think, very clear that the mother has had issues around her relationship with the social worker and communication. However, these are not issues which go to threshold and, as Ms Kilvington observed in her submissions the mother’s lack of honesty on occasions or the lies she admits to having told do not denote harm.

48. The social worker and the children’s guardian were both clearly very troubled by having no clear understanding of how the mother and the father might conduct their relationship in the future. Let me say that I entirely agree that the father as demonstrated by him in his evidence is a very unprepossessing, and unappealing character based on what he said about the conduct of his relationships with women and the children he has. Having said that there is no reliable evidence before this court to indicate that he has ever harmed any child or posed any risk of significant harm to a child. I accept the submission made by Ms Kilvington that it is a matter for the mother and the father how they might conduct their relationship and whether they should be part of the same household or not. It is not for this court or others to judge or interfere with parental relationships unless it can be properly established that there is an identifiable risk of harm for the child or children.

 

The Judge was very critical of the written and oral evidence of both the social worker and the Guardian

 

61. [The social worker] gave evidence over nearly one and half days. He was subjected to lengthy and challenging cross-examination around many issues including his assessment of the mother. He was also questioned about his understanding of the police intelligence and information upon which he had acted and formed his views about the parents and the risk he considered they posed to IMA. He was uncertain about some specific dates and unable to demonstrate from the written records available some of what he was saying. His lack of experience as a social worker was evident.

69. He became very defensive in reply to Ms Kilvington asserting in very strong terms that it was a “very thorough assessment” when she sought to explore some of the issues in respect of it. That was a worrying response which smacked of the over confidence of someone who did not have the knowledge and experience to demonstrate a degree of circumspection and humility since it was clear, to me at any rate, that the thoroughness of the assessment was not evidenced in what has been produced to the court. [The social worker’s] response on the issues raised in connection with the conduct of the assessment and the confirmation of the unreliability of his evidence in respect of the assessment process was profoundly worrying.

155. I have real concerns about how the local authority responded to the initial referral and subsequent information given by the police. I do not understand why the PLO pre-proceedings procedures were apparently never initiated when dealing with a young, first time mother who should have been encouraged to seek early legal advice which might, and I cannot put it any higher, have resulted in a different direction being taken in respect of the removal of IMA from her care under the Emergency Protection Order when he was a week old. The social worker was not able to give an adequate explanation for not implementing the relevant procedures.

156. I was also troubled by the Child and Family Assessment record and the process of the assessment undertaken by the social worker. I have commented above on the timing of the relevant sessions with the mother which demonstrates what I would consider a real training issue which needs to be addressed with the social worker. However, I was also troubled by the electronic record of the assessment which appears to make no provision to actually describe what questions were actually asked of or explored with the mother in circumstances where this social worker failed to keep any contemporaneous notes which he was able to produce when being challenged about it. This is a practice issue which the local authority and its managers need to consider and address since it is likely to arise as an issue in many cases which are brought before the courts.

157. There are I think real issues about this social worker and his role in these proceedings which largely emanate from his lack of experience. The view I formed of him was that he was an inexperienced but highly intelligent and articulate young man who was committed to trying to promote and safeguard the welfare of IMA in circumstances which he found to be extremely challenging. He unfortunately appeared to me to have a lack of understanding and awareness of how to communicate with the mother in particular at a level which was basic enough to enable her to engage effectively. There were times in his evidence where he became very confused and resorted to saying things he was unable to properly substantiate. That was regrettable since it undermined his reliability so far as this court was concerned.
The social worker’s manager also takes some flak

158. I should also add that I am troubled by the role of the social worker’s manager in relation to steps taken within the proceedings. It was clear from the social worker’s evidence that many of the decisions made had not been his but those of his manager. The clearest example being in relation to the decision not to continue with any rehabilitation proposal or plan in or around the 7th May 2014. I found it surprising that the local authority did not consider it either appropriate or necessary to ask her to provide a statement or indeed to invite her to attend at court to provide an explanation.
And in relation to the Guardian

106. The guardian also premised his conclusions in respect of the mother on the basis of an acceptance of the risks that the father may pose to the child as if that had an established factual basis which is not evident in the evidence before the court at that time. This is evident at E37 where he asserts that
“the father in my view presents serious risk to IMA”.
107. However, he later goes on to say at E39

“In view of the father’s lack of engagement in the local authority’s assessment, the risks that the father presents to IMA remain unassessed. His criminal history and his relationship history raise understandable concerns. He appears to play a peripheral role in the lives of his other children. It is unclear what role he would play in IMAs life if he was placed in his mother’s care……. I share the local authority’s view that the potential risks presented by the father to IMA remain as relevant as at the outset of these proceedings”.

108. His report proliferates with references to the risk the father presents to IMA as being “unassessed”.

113. At paragraphs 106 to 114 of his report the guardian purports to address the ‘threshold criteria’ and refers to having considered the judgment in Re B. His approach has been to ask three questions – (i) what is the risk of harm? (ii) is it significant?; and (iii) how likely is it to happen? The answers he purports to give are both unsatisfactory and confusing, in my judgement. The suggestion that the risk of harm is that IMA will be a member of a household in which his emotional and social development is impaired is not evidence based on any factual foundation before the court. The suggestion that the father’s circumstances provide a “potential for disagreement and tension” with the mother that does not provide “a sound basis for a stable and harmonious household” does not appear to be factually founded. It is speculative and ignores the fact that there is no evidence of any domestic violence between the mother and the father

114. At paragraph 110 he says he “finds it difficult to assess whether the risk of harm is significant or not” and that “it may be significant or it may not.” He then asserts that he is satisfied that the “risk may be significant” but he then goes on to consider that the parents’ ability to work openly and honestly is relevant to the assessment of whether the risk, as opposed to the harm, is significant which misses the point. His conclusion at paragraph 113 that

“there is a real possibility of IMA suffering significant harm. There is a real possibility of him living in a household characterised by instability, disharmony and the use of intimidating or threatening behaviour. There is a risk of his emotional and social development being impaired if he is living in such an environment”

appears to lack any factual basis evidenced in the information available to the court to satisfy the ‘threshold criteria’ at the time the local authority implemented it protective measures for the child.
[The scattering of the  ‘unassessed risk’ phrase is quite reminiscent of the case that Ryder LJ recently granted permission to appeal on - Ryder LJ's remark there was "We are ALL unassessed risks". Is there an issue with professionals confusing absence of an assessment due to non-engagement with evidence of risk?]
The Judge was also very critical of the ‘chinese whispers’ and assertions being repeated and reported as fact, particularly around the police intelligence
150. There are real issues in this case about the Children’s Services reliance on police “intelligence” as a basis for the actions taken by the social worker and others. The “intelligence” referred to has never been produced to this court or the parties and it is unclear as to exactly what information has been given by the police to the social worker or others within Children’s Services. There are two written documents before the court from the police which I found to be worrying within the context of these proceedings. There is an e-mail which appears at C1 in the bundle dated the 28th August 2013 which follows some meeting with the police on the previous day after the recovery of IMA and the arrest of his parents on the 25th August. I can understand how a social worker as inexperienced as Mr Baker reacted the way he did to this. However, I question the validity of the police risk assessment in relation to contact made by this police officer which, as I understand it, was put before the court when it was considering the extension to the Emergency Protection Order and the court was invited by the local authority to refuse contact between the mother and IMA until after a risk assessment had been undertaken. Fortunately, the court refused the local authority application.

151. Perhaps more worrying though is a statement from a CD Acton at F208 dated the 24th March 2014 which was written in response to a request for clarification as to why it was thought that the father was a risk to women and children. She describes that the case was deemed as high risk according to a DASH assessment. DASH assessments are based on a victim’s self report in answer to set questions. They are not objectively evidence based. That is an issue in this case given that the father has never been prosecuted for any offences of actual violence against his former wife, RK. This statement is I think very much open to question in respect of much of its content but for the present purposes I simply make the final observation that the assertion that the father “has been arrested in regards to sexual offences against females as well as violent offences against this victim” is not evidenced on the basis of any information before this court and appears demonstrably unreliable. It calls into question the reliability of any of the “intelligence” given to this social worker and how he responded to it.

 

Adoption and Islam : Milton Keynes and the Diet of Worms

 

If you want the recipe for Milton Keynes v X and Y 2014 it is this

 

 

  1. Open can
  2. Decant worms from can
  3. Liberally distribute worms everywhere

 

[Quick disclaimer - this post and the case deal with issues of faith. I am a heathen unbeliever, and I'm afraid that flippancy is something of a knee-jerk reaction for me. I have genuinely tried to rein that in, and be respectful of other people's faiths. I may inadvertently have failed to do that, or accidentally said something which will annoy or upset people of any faith. That's not my intent. I don't have beliefs myself, but I respect those who do.  The same will be true of the comments - keep them respectful please]

 

The case is here

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B102.html

 

It is a decision from a District Judge, and I actually think that it is a very good judgment – it is thorough, analytical and has a very good innovation of putting a real-person-friendly summary at the end of each section.

 

I think that it does lose it in the last few paragraphs, notably because you can’t actually tell whether the Judge has made a final order and if so what it is, but it was undoubtedly a difficult case to wrestle with.

 

Let me stress, that as a decision from a District Judge, it is not binding authority (other than being binding on the particular case concerned), but the DJ is right, it raises important wider issues and the Judge was right to publish it.

If I have the Judge’s gender wrong, I apologise, I had to take a guess at it. In doing so, I realised that my stock gender attribution for Circuit Judges is female and for District Judges male, soI deliberately flipped that around.

 

The central dilemma in the case is this – in a case involving children of Muslim parents, once the Court has decided that they cannot go home, is it right to weigh into the balance when deciding about adoption the Islamic beliefs about adoption?   And can those beliefs tip the balance?

 

It is somewhat odd that the case doesn’t refer to the lead authority on this very point, which is Newcastle v Z 2005. [Not the Judge’s fault, she ought to have been taken to it by someone]

 

In the Newcastle case, Mr Justice Munby, as he then was, had to look at this very issue. In that case, he had to look at whether mother was ‘unreasonably withholding her consent’ to adoption, given that her chief objection was based on her faith.

 

 

40. It is clear that the mother has a very deep and utterly genuine commitment to Islam.

 

41. That was apparent from the views she expressed in the course of her evidence, from the way in which she gave that evidence and, indeed, from the way in which she handled and kissed the Quran before taking the oath. I intend no offence when I say that her beliefs come over as the simple, unsophisticated and unquestioning faith of a woman who, despite her twenty-five years in this country, is still very much, I suspect, located socially, emotionally and religiously in the peasant society of Kashmir from which she sprang. But what is clear, and needs to be recognised, is that her faith is both very real and very important to her

 

[Thank goodness that he intended no offence, when describing her basically as a simple peasant girl with unsophisticated beliefs]

 

42. Her religious objections to adoption were simply but passionately stated. She considers adoption to be against her religion. She believes that the Quran – much of which she knows by heart – says that it is a mother and father’s responsibility to bring up their children and that adoption is wrong.

“Adoption is not allowed by Islamic law. My religious beliefs would therefore prevent me from giving my consent even if I thought that adoption was best for S which I do not.”

 

She believes that if a child is adopted then when he dies his soul will not get peace. She believes that if S is adopted, not merely will he lose his inheritance rights to certain family land in Pakistan but that she, in consequence, will not be able to go on Haj. She recognises that the Quran permits Kafala, which she describes as being very much like foster care, but says that Kafala is very different from adoption, as the child keeps the surname and inheritance rights of the biological family. She says that the Quran does not permit the full separation of a child from the family as happens with adoption.

 

 

[Haj is the pilgrimage to Mecca, which all followers of Muslim have to make once in a life-time. It is a core part of the faith. If the mother had not already undertaken Haj, and would be forbidden from doing so if her son was adopted, this would be very significant for her faith. But then, blood transfusion is forbidden by the Jehovah's Witness faith, and that has never cut any ice with the High Court. And of course, the Courts have been ready to reject faith-based arguments from Christians about all sorts of things over the last few years]

Mr Justice Munby (as he then was) analysed some material and documents that explored the religious implications of adoption for those of the Islamic faith, concluding this:-

 

 

46. In broad outline all this material is to much the same effect. There is no adoption in our sense of the word in Islam, but Kafala is well established in Islam as a means of providing care to children, allowing a child to benefit from the care of a good home whilst at the same time losing neither his family name nor his rights in his birth family. Kafala is best understood as the long-term fostering of a child without the right to kinship. Under Kafala the “adoptive” family never takes the place of the biological family, whose ties to the child are never severed; the “adoptive” family are trustees and caretakers of someone else’s child. The Quran (33:4-5) specifically reminds “adoptive” parents that they are not the child’s biological parents:

 

“Nor has He made your adopted sons your (biological) sons. These are but (figures of) speech uttered by your mouths …

Call them by their father’s names; this is more equitable in the sight of Allah. But if you know not who their fathers were (call them) your brothers in faith and your friends”.

 

 

The Judge in Newcastle v Z accepted that these were the mother’s genuine faith-based beliefs about adoption and that they were a genuine part of Islamic faith.

 

48. As I read him, the expert in the case before Charles J treated adoption as something not recognised by the Sharia and also, it would seem, as something prohibited by the Sharia, in the sense that the natural rights which a parent has in relation to his or her child do not include the right to agree to adoption. But there is nothing in any of the materials I have been shown to suggest that to give up a child for adoption constitutes a wrong or a sin exposing the parent to penalty or punishment. The only reference to sin in this context that I have been shown is in the Quran (2:233) where the following appears:

 

“And if you both (parents) decide, by mutual consent and counsel, upon separation, you will incur no sin if you decide to entrust your children to foster-mothers, you will incur no sin provided you ensure in a fair manner, the safety of the child which you are handing over.”

 

49.  That said, this case is not to be determined by reference to some abstract principle of Islam but having regard to the mother’s own religious and other beliefs. The fact is – and I so find – that the mother believes (and believes that in so believing she is a good Muslim) that if S is adopted then when he dies his soul will not get peace, and she likewise believes that if he is adopted she will not be able to go on Haj. Those beliefs may or may not be borne out by the Quran and the Sharia, but they are the mother’s beliefs. And they are also, I am prepared to accept, beliefs that can conscientiously be held by a devout Muslim as the mother believes herself to be.

 

 

Nonetheless, the Judge in Newcastle v Z still went on to rule that the mother was ‘unreasonably withholding her consent’.   This bit of the judgment may call to mind angels dancing on the head of a pin, as the Judge rules that she is ‘reasonable’ but ‘unreasonable’ at the same time, but this was the nonsense of the 1976 Adoption Act, where the need to rule that a parent was behaving ‘unreasonably’ in objecting to non-consensual adoption led to a great many hearings where salt was rubbed into wounds.

 

51. The mother’s religious beliefs are in themselves reasonable – that I entirely accept – but she is nonetheless, in all the circumstances of this particular case, acting unreasonably in relying upon them as a justification for refusing consent to her son’s adoption. The mother’s religious views demand respect and call for particular and sensitive consideration, but at the end of the day the question is whether, having regard to the evidence and applying the current values of our society, the advantages of adoption for the welfare of S are sufficiently strong to justify overriding the religious and other views and interests of the mother. In my judgment they are. A reasonable parent in the mother’s position, even one holding the mother’s particular religious views, would nonetheless accept that adoption is in the best interests of her English son. The mother, in my judgment, is acting unreasonably in taking the other view.

 

 

We now don’t have the ‘unreasonably withholding her consent’ test, as the test for finally making a Placement Order is that either the parent consents, or the Court decides that the child’s welfare REQUIRES that consent be dispensed with.

 

It is that little word ‘REQUIRES’, which some years ago the previous President said was a ‘common sense English word’ (Re P) and has now been developed post Baroness Hale’s minority (but hugely influential) judgment in Re B, into the ‘nothing else will do’ principle; carrying on its back all of the proportionality concepts.

 

As outlined in Re B-S (see about one blog post in four from the last twelve months, and if you have not so far heard of Re B-S, then you’ve got quite a bit of reading to catch up on. Have you just been in Court with His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, by any chance?), the Court has to avoid a linear approach and to look at the pros and cons of each placement option. The Court can’t simply rule out a parent based on the negatives and then go to adoption as being what is left; the negatives of adoption and the positives of placement with a parent have to be taken into the mix.  The faith implications surely have to go into that balancing exercise, rather than as the Judge did in Newcastle acknowledge that they existed but that they played no real part in any actual decision.

 

So, the question is, post Re B-S, is the approach of Newcastle v Z still good law?

 

It would have to be the case that the parent’s genuinely held religious beliefs about adoption would have to go into the negatives column on the option of adoption. They probably (?) don’t, of themselves defeat adoption as a possibility, because if so adoption would just be ruled out for any child of Muslim parents.  One can readily see that being abused by people as a ‘get out of adoption free card’  by converting at the doors of Court.

 

So, Newcastle stands up on it not being determinative, but I suspect that in a finely balanced case, it might be a very important factor.

 

That raises some questions of its own – if the incorporation of that factor is capable of tipping the balance in a finely balanced case, then children of Muslim parents are potentially being treated differently to those of non-Muslim parents.   Possibly a case could involve two half-siblings, one half-Muslim and one non-Muslim. Are those children in the SAME case to be treated to different standards? What about a case where the parents are not Muslim, but the grandparents are? What about if only one of the grandparents is Muslim? Where do you stop? Where the child is 1/8th Muslim? 1/16th ?  How devout do the parents have to be? Is it intrusive and offensive to even enquire about that?

 

 

In the Milton Keynes case, the Judge was taken to the Islamic beliefs about adoption (they are similar to those expressed in Newcastle, but there are some interesting additions  – for example that the central figure in Islam had himself adopted a child)

 

 

The children here had a Muslim mother and a non-Muslim father

 

102. I am concerned that one form of long term placement that has not been realistically explored by the Local Authority, or by the Guardian, appears to be Special Guardianship, which the Guardian considers only in the context of a family member being appointed as special guardian and the Local Authority considers not at all. This case, I recall, concerns two boys who are Muslim; and X in particular is taking a serious interest in his Muslim heritage.

 103. The author “Huda” writing on the website Islam.about.com expresses the matter in this way:

 

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said that a person who cares for an orphaned child will be in Paradise with him, and motioned to show that they would be as close as two fingers of a single hand. An orphan himself, Muhammad paid special attention to the care of children. He himself adopted a former slave and raised him with the same care as if he were his own son.

However, the Qur’an gives specific rules about the legal relationship between a child and his/her adoptive family. The child’s biological family is never hidden; their ties to the child are never severed. The Qur’an specifically reminds adoptive parents that they are not the child’s biological parents:

“…Nor has He made your adopted sons your (biological) sons. Such is (only) your (manner of) speech by your mouths. But Allah tells (you) the Truth, and He shows the (right) Way. Call them by (the names of) their fathers; that is juster in the sight of Allah. .”

(Qur’an 33)

Of course, in English law, an adoption order has the effect of making the adopted child, for all purposes the child of the adopters. There undoubtedly are observant Muslims who are prepared to accept the idea of adoption, in the same way that there are undoubtedly Roman Catholics who accept the laws of divorce. But it must plainly be right to respect the view of any devout Muslim, who says in the face of that teaching contained in the Qur’an that adoption as understood in English law is unacceptable.

 

 

The Judge in Milton Keynes referred to the philosophy underpinning Special Guardianship Orders, which in part were a solution for the faith-based difficulties with adoption. She quoted the White Paper

 

 

5.8 Adoption is not always appropriate for children who cannot return to their birth parents. Some older children do not wish to be legally separated from their birth families. Adoption may not be best for some children being cared for on a permanent basis by members of their wider birth family. Some minority ethnic communities have religious and cultural difficulties with adoption as it is set out in law. Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children may also need secure, permanent homes, but have strong attachments to their families abroad. All these children deserve the same chance as any other to enjoy the benefits of a legally secure, stable permanent placement that promotes a supportive, lifelong relationship with their carers, where the court decides that is in their best interests.

 

5.9 In order to meet the needs of these children where adoption is not appropriate, and to modernise the law so as to reflect the religious and cultural diversity of our country today, the Government believes there is a case to develop a new legislative option to provide permanence short of the legal separation involved in adoption. This view was strongly supported by respondents to the consultation on the PFU report.

 

 

This is, frankly, a bloody good point. Part of the rationale for introducing Special Guardianship Orders were that there are sections of the UK population that have a faith-based objection to adoption as it is practised in the UK. Surely if that’s the case, then it ought to be considered as a solution in such cases?

 

 

The Local Authority in this case were saying that there simply isn’t a pool of ‘prospective Special Guardians’ in the same way that there is a pool of foster carers or prospective adopters. Special Guardianship really only represented a solution for children who needed permanent homes outside of the family if there were existing people in the children’s lives (wider family or foster carers) who would be suitable and willing to have a Special Guardianship Order. You can’t HUNT for Special Guardians, you can only find a person who is able to care for the child and then ask them whether Special Guardianship is something they would want to do.

 

(In short, the Court can’t make Special Guardianship Orders generically and ask the Local Authority to find the right people at a later stage, it can only look at the right people and decide if a Special Guardianship Order was the right order)

 

The Judge wasn’t taken with that argument

 

it appears to me to be entirely unacceptable, and to put the cart before the horse, for a public authority to say “We haven’t got in place mechanisms to implement a measure provided by Parliament, and therefore we do not even propose to try”.

 

 

The solution that the Judge favoured was that the current foster carers be approached, with a view to permanently caring for these children under a Special Guardianship Order. It makes perfect sense to me for this enquiry to be made (and frankly, one would expect that it HAD been made prior to the final hearing)

 

I would invite the Local Authority to give careful consideration to the matter, and to whether it would not be more appropriate to regard long term placement with the existing foster parents as the outcome which would best meet the boys’ needs if permanency in it can be achieved.

 

I would ask the Local Authority specifically to amend their care plans to clarify timescales and the criteria on which they would seek to move the boys from their existing placement, and to make it explicit that the boys will not be separated from one another and will not be accommodated in short term placements

 

 

In a more general sense, there’s another time at which the Court might be weighing up Special Guardianship v adoption; and that is in a case where the parents are seeking leave to oppose the making of an adoption order.

 

The High Court dealt with that earlier this year in Re N (A child) Adoption Order 2014 (see this post http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/05/10/special-guardianship-versus-adoption/   )

 

 

There are some key strands to be drawn together then

 

  1. In seeking leave to oppose adoption, Re B-S says that when measuring whether a parent’s application has ‘solidity’, one is not looking at just whether they would get the child back, but whether they could persuade the Court to make another order.
  2. The Court can impose a Special Guardianship Order on a person who doesn’t want one – there is clear Court of Appeal authority from the very first batch of Special Guardianship cases (Re S) that the Court could look at someone who had applied for adoption and make a Special Guardianship Order instead

 

  1. The Courts accept that there is a genuine faith-based objection in the Islamic faith to adoption as it is practiced in the UK

 

  1. Part of the rationale behind Special Guardianship was to resolve that faith-based objection

 

  1. From Re N, the High Court have set down a marker that it was due to ‘exceptional circumstances’ that they did not acquiesce to father’s request that the Court make an SGO as an alternative to adoption.

 

I have already indicated that this is an exceptional case. If it were not an exceptional case, I doubt whether an adoption order would have been appropriate”

 

 

It would seem to me, and I am no expert, just an opinionated law Geek, that the door to successfully challenge an adoption application on religious grounds and substitute it for a Special Guardianship Order is at the very least ajar, if not coming off its hinges.

 

 

Do Local Authorities, Guardians and Courts have to bear that in mind when considering making the Placement Orders in the first place? Do adopters who are considering taking on children with Muslim parents need to be advised that this placement might be susceptible to a successful challenge? Is there a need for a national recruitment and register for people willing to care for Muslim children for life under SGOs?

 

 

In the words of Chandler Bing – “Can open. Worms. Everywhere”

step-parent adoptions and nothing else will do

The Court of Appeal in Re P (a child) 2014 considered an appeal from a Judge who refused a step-parent adoption having applied the law (or at least the gloss on the law applied in the last year)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1174.html

 

Boiling it down to one question – does ‘nothing else will do’ apply to step-parent adoptions where the biological parent who is being ousted as the legal parent doesn’t consent?  Well, of course it does, one would immediately say. The whole thrust of Re B was about ‘non-consensual adoption’, that’s a  non-consensual adoption. And the whole hook of Re B was using the word ‘requires’ in the s52(1) (b) test  to carry with it a huge additional weight of proportionality and nothing else will do – running counter to the former President’s decision in  a previous  Re P that ‘require was a perfectly ordinary English word’  to import a meaning  that was much much more. (To be fair, that’s an additional amount of meaning taken directly from the ECHR decision of  Y v UK, which in effect was ‘the ECHR lets the UK persist in its weird ideas about adoption, but we only tolerate it if you take it bloody seriously’)

 

The legal test for dispensing with the father’s consent to make a step-parent adoption  (and these cases are almost always about fathers being cut out of children’s lives and legal relationship of fathers being severed – you just don’t get many stepmother adoptions) is s52(1) (b),  – the child’s welfare requires consent to be dispensed with.

 

So, of course, it must be ‘nothing else will do’.

 

And if it is “nothing else will do” then it is going to be spectacularly hard to demonstrate that for any proposed step-parent adoption  (not just that it would be better for the child to make the order but that there is literally no other solution – ie the status quo can’t remain for reasons which are hard to fathom, looking from the outside)

 

So, nothing else will do almost certainly kills off step-parent adoptions.

No, the Court of Appeal say otherwise.  (I will make it plain that I think this decision is wrong, but it’s the law, and we are stuck with it. I think it flies in the face of common sense, ignores the principle of least interventionist order and is particularly prejudicial to birth fathers)

 

Here is the Court of Appeal test for step-parent adoptions  (drawn from a 1999 ECHR case, Soderback v Sweden, which distinguished between State adoption and adoption within part of the biological family)

 

a) There is a distinction to be drawn between adoption in the context of compulsory, permanent placement outside the family against the wishes of parents (for example as in Johansen v Norway) and a step-parent adoption where, by definition, the child is remaining in the care of one or other of his parents;

b) Factors which are likely to reduce the degree of interference with the Art 8 rights of the child and the non-consenting parent ['Parent B'], and thereby make it more likely that adoption is a proportionate measure are:

i) Where Parent B has not had the care of the child or otherwise asserted his or her responsibility for the child;

ii) Where Parent B has had only infrequent or no contact with the child;

iii) Where there is a particularly well established family unit in the home of the parent and step-parent in which ‘de facto’ family ties have existed for a significant period.

 

Those all seem to me very good reasons for a step-father having PR, but why are they good reasons for making an adoption order and changing a step-father into a legal father, and changing the biological father into a person with no connection to the child whatsoever?

 

The Court of Appeal do say that where the biological father is involved and opposes, the position is that the adoption should be a rare event and that the case ought to be resolved by making private law orders instead (there’s the ability to grant a step-father PR, or Child Arrangement Order (residence), even a Special Guardianship Order – although that would be insane, because it would give the step-father the legal power to override the birth mother. That’s so crackers that… it will probably happen within the next year)

 

In so far as the earlier domestic cases to which I have made reference establish that, in the event of Parent B being actively opposed to a step-parent adoption, practical arrangements should be dealt with by private law orders, that approach is entirely at one with the modern private law relating to children which seeks to determine aspects of the delivery of child-care and the discharge of parental responsibility either by parental agreement or by a child arrangements order under CA 1989, s 8.
 

The making of an adoption order is primarily, if not entirely, concerned with the legal status of the relationships between the child, his natural parent(s) and the adopter(s), rather than practical arrangements. Thorpe LJ’s words in Re PJ adhering to the aptness of earlier cautionary dicta, and reminding professionals of the need to be aware of the motives, emotions and possible unrealistic assumptions about any new family unit, remain as wise and sound as they were when uttered in 1998. In this manner, the approach of the domestic case law sits easily alongside that of the ECtHR in Söderbäck v Sweden

 

The earlier authorities on contested step parent adoptions thus still apply, despite their antiquity so here they are

 

In Re D (Adoption: Parent’s Consent) [1977] AC 602 the House of Lords gave consideration to a step-parent adoption application made by a mother and her new husband, which was opposed by the child’s father. Lord Wilberforce, at page 627, laid stress on three matters:
 

 

i) that under the statutory test for dispensing with parental consent, as it then was, the child’s welfare was only one consideration; the test being ‘reasonableness’ (Adoption Act 1958, s 7); 

ii) consent should only be dispensed with in rare and exceptional cases, and this was ‘all the more so in cases … where the adoption is desired by one natural parent and the other refuses consent';

iii) an adoption order, which is irrevocable, should not be used to deal with practical considerations concerning custody, care and control or access.
Dicta of the Court of Appeal (for example that of Bagnall J in Re B (Adoption by Parent) [1975] Fam 127 at page 146) endorsed the third of these points and indicated that, in the event of the other natural parent opposing a step-parent adoption, the court would strive to achieve an outcome by ordinary private law orders rather than adoption.

 

 

This is going to make the issue of service of the birth father a very critical issue. If the birth father has been served and doesn’t turn up, the Court will probably make the step parent adoption order if it can be shown that the current family unit is settled and happy and that the birth father’s role has been limited. If he does turn up, the Court will probably NOT make the order.  Thus, making sure that the birth parent has been served is vital, and of course the likelihood is that these applications will be made after mum and birth father have been estranged for some years and without the benefit of public funding.

 

Relinquishing for adoption and nothing else will do

This is a High Court case, decided in April, but the report of judgment has only recently come out. I’m grateful to Celtic Knot for ensuring that it came to my attention
I touched on the (at that time unresolved) issue of whether the raft of jurisprudence on ‘non-consensual adoptions’ also applied to step-parent adoptions and relinquished babies where the mother was giving the child up for adoption but the father was not identified/told.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/04/12/step-parent-adoption-telling-the-birth-father/

and this High Court case Coventry City Council and A 2014 deals with the relinquished adoption issue (and my next blog post will deal with the Court of Appeal’s decision on step-parent adoptions)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/2033.html

If you want the Too Long; Didn’t Read version – it is that I would be very cautious about relinquished adoptions particularly if there is any international element. If either parent is from another EU country, I would strongly urge you to read the judgment in Coventry CC and A. I suspect that it will make ‘relinquished adoptions’ considerably more protracted, complicated and expensive.
This case took nearly a year to resolve (with a baby that mother wanted to give up for adoption – so twice as long as fully contested care proceedings are intended to take)

Part of the reason why is that the mother was Romanian, and the High Court embarked on a process of notifying the Romanian authorities about the existence of the child and the potential order that would be made in the UK courts.

Let’s look at what mum had to say about her extended family

The hospital was able to contact the mother through her friend, Z, via a mobile phone and a meeting was arranged with the mother to attend the hospital on 7th June. Initially the mother failed to return but, ultimately, after some persuasion, she did so with her friend Z. She was spoken with through an interpreter speaking Romanian. At this meeting she gave her baby a name after some prompting with the social workers and held the baby for the first time showing some emotion in doing so. The mother gave information about her and her baby’s background. She said that the father was Romanian Roma but she was herself Romanian. She refused to provide the father’s name. She said that her family were not aware of her pregnancy. She had not told them about it or her relationship with the father and she had concealed the pregnancy from them. She said that her family would not approve of the relationship with the father as he was Roma and her mother would disown her if she knew. She wanted the baby to be adopted. She intended to return to Romania as soon as possible after she received her new travel documents.

She said she was from a named village in Romania, that she had two other children residing there, a son aged nine and a daughter aged ten and they were being cared for by their maternal grandparents. She had no money to support a baby. She said the father was aware of the pregnancy but was not interested and he was not aware that the baby had been born. She had come here on holiday to see her friend, Z, who came from the same area as the maternal grandparents. She had not told Z about the pregnancy until her waters broke. She said she had no fixed abode, she moved between the homes of various friends and had been evicted the evening before and was at that time staying with a friend of Z.

That seems, to me, to be a very clear message that the mother did not want her relatives approached or told of the existence of the baby.

Unfortunately, mother did not help herself because she didn’t attend the appointment with a CAFCASS officer to sign the adoption forms. Nor did she attend the second such appointment, and then she vanished.

The baby was thus not, in law, relinquished. Mother had agreed to give the baby up for adoption but had not signed the paperwork that would be a vital part of the process. That meant that rather than being a relinquished baby adoption, this had to go into care proceedings.

And, the case having gone into care proceedings, efforts had to be made to find and serve the mother.

[HUGE LESSON here – if you are dealing with a mother who wants to relinquish her baby, it is vital that she is made to understand that not filling out the forms is going to make life much worse for her. Fine to decide ‘I don’t want to sign them because I want the child back’, but ‘I don’t want to sign the forms because I want to stop thinking about this’ is just going to make things much much worse]

It made things much much worse for this mother here, because a process server was sent out to look for her in a Romanian village near Bucharest

The process server met with the mother’s own mother who is Romanian, who told him she is looking after the children at the family home, that the mother was not in Romania, she had left a few months ago to go to the United Kingdom. She said that the family believed she was working as a prostitute in the United Kingdom and recently had had problems and had been in hospital. The process server was unable to gain any further information but was able to say that the address in Coventry, which the mother had given to the local authority, did not exist.
In the second report, dated 30th November, the process server described the village as being small, about 100 kilometres from Bucharest, with “a majority gypsy population very poor and simple peoples.” He met with the mother’s own mother again who was shown a photograph of the mother. Initially she denied recognising the mother but later produced a copy of the mother’s ID card with a photograph of the mother. Whilst there, a niece of the mother identified the photograph as the mother and a sister of the mother did so as well. The grandmother then returned with a copy of the mother’s ID card and was able to confirm that the photograph with the process server was that of the mother. The process server then showed a photograph of the mother to a village policeman who identified it as that of the mother and said that she had been registered as missing but had returned to the address and was declared not missing. It seems he thought that she was probably in the United Kingdom and said that she did not have a relationship with her family. The local authority have been unable to trace the mother and has no information as to the father’s identity or whereabouts.

Remember, of course, that this mother did not want her family to know anything about the baby or to become involved. So that worked out marvellously for her. (I also dread to think how much Coventry had to pay for the Romanian equivalent of Jim Rockford to go out flashing this photograph of the mother around, including showing it to a village policeman)
The final upshot though, was that the mother was not found, and the care case thus proceeded in the absence of the mother, or a father.

What then happened was that the Court caused the Romanian authorities to be informed of the case. It took a while to get any response out of them, but once they started to respond, they got highly responsive, ultimately saying that they wanted the case transferred to Romania and were wholly opposed to a child of Romanian parents to be adopted, even where the mother herself was not opposing it.

 

the Romanian authorities have been informed as to the existence of A and the existence of these proceedings and the care plan for adoption. The care proceedings were issued on 9th August last year and the application for the placement order was on 14th October. These applications were transferred from the Coventry Family Proceedings Court to the Coventry County Court on 18th November 2013 due to the complexity of the international aspects. On 20th November her Honour Judge Watson directed that the Romanian central authority be invited to attend the next hearing on 4th December. On 4th December, although the Romanian central authority had been notified, no representatives attended but on 2nd December the Romanian Directorate for International Law and Judicial Cooperation wrote saying that the correspondence had been forwarded to the child protection directorate and that a response was awaited.
On 4th December Judge Watson invited the Romanian central authority to write to the local authority by 23rd December informing the local authority of its position concerning the baby and the substance of any representation or applications that they were intending to make to the court. A further invitation was made to the Romanian central authority to attend at the next hearing on 13th January, it being noted that the court may make such an order on that date in the absence of any representation and the court considered that sufficient notice had been given. Judge Watson also ordered that the local authority do have permission to disclose this order and other relevant documents suitably redacted to the Romanian central authority before forwarding it to the Romanian child protection directorate that a warning of the confidentiality of the court proceedings would need to be maintained until further order.
The local authority was ordered to send a copy of the order to the Romanian central authority under cover of a letter explaining that their attendance is requested at the next hearing when final orders may be made in their absence. Judge Watson ordered that the Romanian authorities should not disclose the birth of the baby to the maternal family without the permission of the court. She gave leave to the Romanian central authority to apply to discharge parts of the order.
The matter was restored to her Honour Judge Watson on 13th January. The Romanian central authority had been invited but made no representations and was not in attendance on that day. However, the court read a letter from the Romanian directorate for International Law and Judicial Cooperation and another letter from the director of the Romanian child protection department and noted that the child protection department was content not to inform the maternal family about the birth of the baby and the judicial proceedings whilst A’s best interests were considered.
The child protection department does not consider the adoption of the child as justifiable and that it seeks the return of the child to Romania. Various directions were made and the matter was transferred to Mrs Justice King to be heard in the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 17th January 2014. The Romanian authorities were invited to make representations to Mrs Justice King. It was noted that such attendance is essential if the court is to consider the Romanian authority’s opposition to the local authority’s application for care and placement orders. By paragraph 4 of the order if the Romanian authorities wish to oppose the local authority’s application for care and placement orders they are invited by the court by 16th January to file and serve a document setting out their case in detail whether questions regarding the child’s welfare are subject to determination under the United Kingdom or the Romanian law; however, the courts in England have powers of jurisdiction to determine the questions relating to the child’s welfare and any points they make in opposition to the local authority’s plans for the child, any points they wish to make in support of a plan for the child to be returned to Romania, and the plan they propose for the child’s care including how her medical needs would be met. The Romanian central authority was to be served forthwith.
The letter of 9th January which was before Judge Watson came from the Directorate of International Law and Judicial Cooperation addressed to Coventry City Council, “Please find attached letter of response from the child protection directorate concerning the child. The Romanian child protection considers that the international adoption of a child is not justified as Romanian national law provides specific and limited situations when international adoption can take place. The child protection directorate requests repatriation of the child to Romania where the local child protection agency will be available to make the necessary investigations and to adopt protective measures for the child.”
The directorate also wrote on 16th January again to the local authority, “Further to your message of 13th January, we are sending you attached the answer provided by the child protection directorate dated 15th January. With regard to the question raised by the Coventry County Court on the question of jurisdiction, it is our opinion that Article 13 of the EC council regulations number 2201 of 2003 is applicable, that the Royal Courts of Justice could also take into consideration and apply the provisions of Article 15 of Brussels II (Revised). As to the question of consent and participation by the Romanian representative at the hearing on 17th January our office cannot confirm that at this time.”
The letter that was enclosed came from the Directorate of Child Protection which is dated 15th January; “Further to your request for an opinion regarding the case of A, we believe that we should make the clarifications below. As you are aware from the information provided by the British authorities, the Romanian side has been asked to observe confidentiality about the situation of the child and the identity of the parents. It has been mentioned in our previous correspondence that there is a complete provision for Romanian local authorities to support and assume repatriation of the child considering that she is a Romanian national. However, given that the British authorities have only provided us with extremely brief information about the situation, we believe that their request dated 4th January that a series of documents should be made available by the 16th which should present a proposed plan for the child including the manner in which her medical situation would be handled and any other arguments meant to challenge the decisions made by the local authority that the child is adopted are unrealistic considering that any serious assessment must be based on documents that affect both the social background and they affect the medical condition of the child and the family environment of the natural extended family of the child in order to make a substantiated decision about setting up a measure of special protection. Under the circumstances in relation to the recent request by the British court we wish to mention that our institution upholds its opinion about the Romanian local authorities assuming the responsibility of repatriating this child to Romania and that the specialised documents will be prepared by the general directorate of social assistance for child protection from the country of domicile after the British Social Services provide us with the documents that describe the current situation. Whether a representative of the Romanian Embassy will appear on 17th January, please be advised that we cannot issue an opinion about the designation of the representative who will participate.” Then it was signed off

 

Yes, I have left out of my opening remarks that this case is going to involve Brussels II, but sadly it does. I just didn’t want to put you off reading it at the outset, apologies for my deception.
It gets worse, because then the Romanian authorities began to get cold feet about whether the mother was in fact Romanian, and that debate went on for ages and ages. Their position was that IF the baby was Romanian, then they would want the case and would oppose adoption, but in the absence of documentary proof about the mother’s nationality they wanted no part of it (and they weren’t accepting the process server’s detective work at finding family members and a policeman who confirmed that mother was from a village in Romania)

On 13th March the child protection department wrote the following: “Taking into consideration that child citizenship is still to be clarified, we would like to state that if the court would confirm the child is a Romanian citizen, then the Romanian local authorities from the county where the child’s natural family has residence would issue all the required documentation to return the child to Romania specifying also detailed measures and individual protection plan under which the child’s best interests would be protected. We would like to mention that repatriation procedure as well as the background checks are carried out by the Romanian authorities would be based on the government decision number 1443 of 2004 regarding procedures for the repatriation of unaccompanied children providing the child’s best interests would be protected. If, following the assessment made in relation to the child’s extended family or natural parents, it would be decided that the family re-integration is not an option, then a Romanian competent authority would recommend the child be placed in a foster care based on a court order. The child’s placement would be done by the panel for child protection in the county of residence thought necessary by the court depending on the evidence presented if special protection measures are necessary. Taking into consideration the child’s age, the foster care placement would be the solution to be considered by the Romanian authority as under the current Romanian law, a child under the age of two cannot be placed in a residential institution (orphanage). We would like to emphasise that for the moment the Romanian authorities have been unable to identify the child’s extended family members due to the confidentiality of this case. If the citizenship of the child and the mother are established as Romanian then the Romanian authorities will assume true responsibility for its repatriation be handling the case under Romanian laws.”
That was the final word from the Romanian authorities and the note that sets out the general picture, that letter does not give a timescale as to what would be done, when it would be done and when the child could be placed. There is a lacuna as to what actually would be done in fact and the timescale was not set out.

The Court had to consider the factual matrix to decide whether this baby was habitually resident in England, thus giving the English Court jurisdiction, and decided that she was.

I accept that it is likely that the mother and the little girl are both Romanian. I cannot say that I am one hundred per cent certain but the evidence firmly indicates that likelihood. The mother seemed to speak Romanian as her first language. She talked about Romania and said she was returning to Romania. It seems that we have located her family. I am not making a clear finding of that because all I can do is to look at the evidence before me and the mother is not here. The little girl was born here and the mother wanted her to be adopted here. There was no pressure on her to reach this conclusion. It was her conclusion and she gave her reasons. She said that she had no money to support the child; that her family did not approve of her relationship with the father, that they would disown her and they would not support her and that the father himself was not interested. She herself had concealed the pregnancy from her family and from her friend, Z. The mother has effectively abandoned A to her fate here. She wanted her to be adopted in the United Kingdom, hoping that she would find a good home.
Effectively the mother has left her daughter. Since the birth, A has been here, she has never left this country, she has been in hospital for good reasons after her birth and then when she was ill in July. She only left hospital in September when she was placed with her foster carers and she has not left their care since. She looks on them as her carers, as her family, their home is her home, she knows nothing else, she is only ten months old but she is comfortable, seemingly happy and settled in that environment. If she has a language, it is English. It is not Romanian. No doubt she is familiar with the sound of English. She may now be understanding a lot of things, I know not, but if she has a language it is English. Her culture is that of her carers. The environment in which she lives is that of her carers. She has accessed the United Kingdom’s health system. She moves around her carers’ home area with her carers. She will know their friends and her environment is that of her carers who are British, living somewhere in this country, although I am not sure where; that is where she is and that is her environment. She has had no contact with her mother since 7th June when she was still very, very small. It is clear to me that there is a distinct level of integration for this little girl in the social and family environment in this country with these carers. She has no connection from a practical day to day point of view with Romania. It is clear to me that she is habitually resident here and I make that finding.

In that sense, there is no need for me to consider Article 13 and I have jurisdiction because she is habitually resident here but if I am wrong on that, Article 13 would kick in. Where a child’s habitual residence cannot be established and jurisdiction cannot be determined, the courts of the Member State where the child is present shall have jurisdiction. I am saying that Article 8 applies, this child is habitually resident in this country and by that means I have jurisdiction
The next issue, then, was whether the appropriate venue for decisions to be made was England or Romania, applying article 15 of Brussels II

The Court decided not to transfer the proceedings to Romania (and if you are some sort of Brussels II addict, then the specific paragraphs are 44-50.

The NEXT issue was whether there should be an approach made to the extended family in Romania, and HERE for the first time is a live debate between parties to the proceedings. The Local Authority wanted to respect mother’s clear wishes, the Guardian wanted to explore the extended family so that adoption would only be the outcome if it was the last resort.

This has long been a difficult philosophical issue, and it is difficult to ever find a decision on this point that most people would agree on.

The Court here decide that it IS in the child’s interests for that exploration to be made, and place reliance on ‘nothing else will do’ (although it is quoted as ‘nothing less will do’). That, I suspect, is likely to be the conclusion of such debates in the future, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary.

It does, as the Local Authority submitted, raise the spectre of mothers not coming to Local Authorities to relinquish where they don’t want their family involved or contacted, but going back to the bad old days with babies being left in wicker baskets outside hospitals or police stations.

I move on to the last issue before me which is should enquiries be made of the maternal family in Romania and that this would entail a breach of the mother’s confidentiality. The local authority have said that there should be no more enquiries, that it would not be in A’s best interests. It would delay the proceedings here and it would delay the making of a care order and a placement order. The guardian is of a different view and says that there should be enquiries because it would be in A’s best interests if those enquiries are made.
It is never an easy point to breach the confidentiality of a mother who has given birth in difficult circumstances and I recognise that she does not want her family to know about the child and she has given her reasons. It has been said by the local authority that if it became known by a mother in similar circumstances, and if she felt that her confidentiality would be broken, she may not seek the assistance of medical help in giving birth; she may seek “a back street abortion” or give birth secretly which would endanger the mother and the child. The reality is that each case depends on its own facts. The matter is within my discretion.
Under the Children Act my task is to consider the child’s best interests and that must be my paramount consideration. It then sets out the checklist required by section 3 as to whether I make an order or relating to the welfare and best interests of the child. Under the Adoption of Children Act 2002, section 1(2) the paramount consideration of the court must be the child’s welfare throughout his or her life and I am referred to the checklist and things that I have to consider all relating to the future welfare of the child. The care plan here is for adoption. Romania, I acknowledge, does not have the same rules for adoption and their position for placing children is different from ours. Here, recently adoption has been described as the last resort for a child when all else fails and that was said in Re B [2013] UKSC 803 or, as Lady Hale said, it is “when nothing less would do”.
It is a last resort at the end of the day because it is the curtailment of a child belonging to his or her natural family. By adoption the child legally becomes a member of another family and is incorporated into that family on an everyday basis. She would become a full member of that family legally, practically, and emotionally. It is a change of identity of lifestyle, environment, a change of everything in a child’s life. It is a cutting off for the child from her background or the knowledge of the family and the environment in which she came from and it is a cutting off in law as well. The President in the recent case of Re B indicated that it should only be done on very clear evidence and there must be proper evidence both from the local authority and from the guardian and the evidence must address all issues and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option. There must be clear evidence and proper information or as much as can be garnered. All options must be considered before a care plan for adoption can be accepted, with a placement order being made or an adoption order being made.
The court has a duty to ensure that full and proper enquiries have been made of the child’s family. Herein lies the problem, the tension between the little girl’s interests and rights and those of the mother. The mother is not present because she cannot be found and she is not here to put her view and her voice cannot be heard but she made her wishes and intentions for her daughter clear. She wanted the little girl to be adopted and she wanted full confidentiality and had concealed the pregnancy. It is not known how the maternal family would react or what the consequences might be either within the family or to the mother if it became known by the family that the mother had given birth to this little girl and had effectively abandoned her in a foreign land. That we do not know. All we have is the indications by the mother that the family was disapproving of her relationship with the father and she felt that they would not support her in keeping the baby, that the father was not interested. We do not know the consequences that might arise if the family knew about it. All we know is that she wanted confidentiality for her own reasons.
Against that, the little girl has her rights and rights that should be considered before she is adopted here by her current carers. Enquiries should be made to see if she can be returned to her family, her culture, her birth environment, the country of her origins and those are her rights. Both sides, the mother and the daughter, can claim their right to Article 8 of the Human Rights which is that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of respect except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety, and economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. In other words, in a case like this, there is to be respect for the individual’s private and family life and that the court and others should not interfere with that right.
I must also remember that if the information is correct, there are other members of her family, the grandmother, and there may be a grandfather, the half-siblings, and the father himself would have rights to know about this child, to have a voice in that child’s upbringing, if only to say, “We are not interested,” but they have rights.
It is established law that if there are conflicting interests between a child and adults that after careful consideration of all the interests and consequences of any order, and the child’s interests are paramount and they prevail over others.
On the one hand, we have the mother’s position, as she set out and her wishes and her intentions for her daughter. On the other hand, we have the little girl’s interests. Very little is known about her mother or her maternal family or their circumstances and even less about the father who has not been identified. The guardian, on behalf of A, says that it is important to carry out further enquiries and investigations to see if there is a long-term family member available in Romania, if there is a possibility of direct or indirect contact in the future if she is to remain here and to be adopted; and, if she is to be adopted, more information as to her background would be useful as to her family, their background. Such information may be of value to her in the future to know who she is, to know her background and to give her some sense of identity as to where she came from. Her guardian says that eventually if she is to be adopted, she will grow up to know that she has been adopted but she needs to know before she is adopted that everything was done that should have been done before a decision is made and that will be of value to her in her adult life. The guardian accepts that if there are to be further enquiries, there must be no delay.
There was a window of opportunity in February, it has narrowed in the last few weeks and there is very little time left if those enquiries are to be made. If I allow enquiries to be made, they should be strictly time restricted. The local authority say that there is enough information for this court to proceed, that this child needs to be settled quickly, decisions should be made and there should be no more delay given that the mother’s wishes are clear.
I accept, if there is to be further investigation, that delay is an issue. Fortunately she is well placed. If she is to be adopted there will be no move and therefore she herself from a day to day point of view will remain settled until more is known and further decisions can be made but against that, the stress and strain on the carers must be huge. They love her and are committed to her and want to commit to her long term. They need certainty now or very soon from now. It is not fair on them to make them wait for ever. I bear that very much in mind because they are doing a good job and the little girl is benefiting from their care. Anxiety within the home never is good. It will or potentially could impact upon their care and that is what worries me.
I have thought about this and it is not an easy issue but I have come to a decision. I have come to the view that it would be in A’s best interests to make further enquiries in Romania about her family and for the reasons set out by the guardian but those enquiries should be strictly time limited. There should be a strict timetable as to when they should be concluded. If they are not concluded in the timescale because it has not been possible, then decisions will have to be made in this court to conclude these proceedings. I think there should be one last attempt to make further enquiries of the mother’s family and of the father’s if he can be identified and of the provision and systems for child care in the Romanian locality.

 

As I said at the outset, this was not strictly a relinquish case, because mother didn’t sign the forms, but it is on any reading a case where that was her intent, and the High Court here apply “nothing else will do” as a rationale for not making the order, delaying the proceedings and making further enquiries about family members.

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