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Local Authority lawyers should grow a pair

This post contains 95 per cent of your Recommended Daily Allowance of Sarcasm and 119% of your Recommended Daily Allowance of Dopiness

 

Well, it isn’t quite put like that, but it isn’t far off.   I appreciate that for a substantial amount of my compatriots, it isn’t even biologically possible.

 

You see, it turns out that the adoption statistics are our fault.  We all knew that there was about to be a blame game  (heaven forbid that anyone should even consider whether the direction of travel might be a good thing, or a bad thing or a neutral thing before embarking on the blame exercise), but it turns out that the finger points at Local Authority lawyers, who, as I say, are going to be told to ‘grow a pair’

[Even though I speculated today that the next judicial edict would be that the LA final evidence must be written in iambic pentameter and rather than being typed, the social worker would have to sew it using cross-stitch, this rather surprised me.  “It turns out that the Bayeux Tapestry was really just contact notes”… I fully anticipate that Dallas PD will be questioning all Local Authority lawyers about JFK shortly]

 

Martin Narey, Adoption Czar  (or is it Tsar? I can never remember, but it always does remind me that the career trajectory of Czars and Tsars, both in historical leader sense and in political oversight sense hasn’t been that stellar) has given a speech at the Association of Directors of Children’s Services.

 

He is thus talking to the uber-bosses of all social workers, the capo del tutti capi of social workers.

Whilst I’m not the largest flag-waving champion of Mr Narey, and I’m unlikely to ever make his Christmas card list, I will give credit where it is due. He has put that speech up online, so that people can read it. He didn’t HAVE to do that, so good on him for doing it.

Flag is going back in the cupboard now.

 

It isn’t really surprising that he opens with a discussion about the adoption statistics. To be fair (oh, flag coming back out), if you’re the Adoption Czar and there’s a big political drive to get adoption numbers up, then when they absolutely tank, you’re BOUND to want to do something about that. If you don’t, then you’re sort of redundant. Probably literally as well as figuratively.

 

Mr Narey refers to the drop being a result of two major Court decisions, Re B and Re B-S, and reminds us all that he helped to produce a Myth-Busting document that picked up a lance and slew the dragon of misconception, so these adoption figures should recover, thanks to his intervention.

 

He talks about the number of ADM decisions for Placement Orders to be sought going down 52% last year, and he says this    (If I’m crabby here, it is only PARTLY because I can’t cut and paste from his slides and have had to type the whole thing out. Only PARTLY)

 

“But these are not as a result of the Courts rejecting Placement Order applications in vast numbers. The drop is overwhelmingly explained by a drop in Local Authority Placement Order applications. They have dropped from 1,830 to 910, a decrease of almost exactly half.

 

Unless you believe that all those adoption decisions you made last year were not in the interests of those children, I urge you to ensure that your social workers and lawyers have not lost their nerve, and the President’s exhortation that you must follow adoption when that is in the child’s best interests is followed. If current figures do not recover, then over time, we shall see adoption numbers drop back very substantially indeed.

 

I don’t think adoption can ever be suitable for other than a minority of children in care. But I think that minority is probably more than 5,000 or just 7% of the care population”

 

Well, where to start?

As an argument “Unless you believe that all those adoption decisions you made last year were not in the interests of those children”  so get out and make some more – ideally 50% more , leaves a lot to be desired. Firstly, it is an emotive appeal. Secondly, saying ‘If you think all those cases where you recommended adoption, you were right’ inexorably leads to   ‘a lot of the ones where you didn’t, you must be wrong’ is some strange use of logic that I’m not familiar with.  Of course ADMs who make a decision that adoption is the right plan for a child do so believing that this is in the best interests of the child. But why on earth should that mean that they were wrong with those that they rejected?

That’s like saying  “remember all those times you bet on Red in the casino and you won? Well, forget about the times that you bet on Red and lost, or you bet on Black and won, clearly betting on Red is the right approach. Go heavily into Red. “

Next, if you think that Local Authority lawyers have lost their nerve, then you need to get out in the trenches with us. There has NEVER been a harder time to be a Local Authority lawyer.  I don’t say this to garner sympathy (I know that many of my readers think that lawyers, and LA lawyers in particular, are the devil incarnate – they are wrong, it is just me), but it is the truth.  It is breathtakingly offensive to say that we have lost our nerve.

Nor have social workers.

 

Perhaps the Adoption Tsar doesn’t know that actually, a lawyers’ job is to give advice but take instructions. We don’t EVER say to a social worker that they can’t put forward a plan of adoption or ask the Agency Decision Maker to approve that plan. We tell them whether or not such a plan is likely to succeed in Court, and we tell them what the strong and weak points of their case is, and we give them advice on what they can do to improve the weak points and how to present their evidence in the way that the Courts now require.

What we do not do, is advise the ADM  “you should approve adoption here”  or “this isn’t an adoption case”.  Even back in the days of Adoption Panel, where a lawyer sat in the same room as the Panel when they made the decision about whether it was an adoption case or not, we didn’t get to make any representations about it or to vote.  Our role was, and still is, limited to giving advice on any legal issues that arise, not to advise the ADM on the merits or otherwise of the case.

 

Mr Narey’s argument here is presumably, theat if Local Authorities had asked the Court to make 1,830 Placement Orders after Re B-S, the Court would have made them.   (And perhaps if we’d asked for 4,000, the Court would have made them too).

 

The reason the adoption statistics dropped was because we were stupid and didn’t understand Myth-Busting !  (TM)  or because we were too timid to ask the question – social workers and Local Authority lawyers have been metaphorically teenagers who want to ask someone out but end up not being able to get a word out when we are near the subject of our affections. What Mr Narey is saying to us is “Hey, that person you like is TOTALLY into you, and they would TOTALLY say yes if you asked them to go to the pictures with you”

It is of course telling that with that 52% drop in applications for Placement Orders, I have not heard of a SINGLE case where a Judge seized of all of the facts and evidence, said to the Local Authority “I cannot believe that you are putting forward a plan that doesn’t involve adoption here, I really think that you should reconsider”  , or given judgments that say “none of the options put forward for this child are sufficient to safeguard their well-being, and I adjourn the final hearing so that matters can be reconsidered”

 

 

I think that it is interesting that whilst this speech makes great play of the President’s decision in Re R, and even quotes from it approvingly, it misses out two really major elements of Re R.

 

The first is this one:-

 

in the final analysis, adoption is only to be ordered if the circumstances meet the demanding requirements identified by Baroness Hale in Re B, paras 198, 215.’

 

[And to save you flipping back to Re B, that, precisely, is THIS

 

para 198: “the test for severing the relationship between parent and child is very strict: only in exceptional circumstances and where motivated by overriding requirements pertaining to the child’s welfare, in short, where nothing else will do.” 

para [215]:

“We all agree that an order compulsorily severing the ties between a child and her parents can only be made if “justified by an overriding requirement pertaining to the child’s best interests”. In other words, the test is one of necessity. Nothing else will do.” ]

 

If a Judge makes a Placement Order without engaging with that test, the judgment will be deficient. If a Local Authority present their case without striving to meet that test, their evidence will be deficient.

The Court of Appeal in Re R also made it plain that all of the stipulations laid down in Re B-S about the quality of the evidence, the need for robust and rigorous child-specific analysis of all of the realistic options and the Court not proceeding in a linear manner still stand.

 

The second omission is of course,

On 11 November 2014 the National Adoption Leadership Board published Impact of Court Judgments on Adoption: What the judgments do and do not say, popularly referred to as the Re B-S myth-buster. This document appears to be directed primarily at social workers and, appropriately, not to the judges. It has been the subject of some discussion in family justice circles. I need to make clear that its content has not been endorsed by the judiciary.

 

I have set out before, here, what the Court do and do not say in Re R     http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/view-from-the-foot-of-the-tower-two-steps-forward-two-steps-back

 

As I said in that piece, the ‘myths and misconceptions’ that the Court of Appeal were slaying were the ones that nobody actually believed were right – even the lawyers advancing those claims that “Re B-S means that if the positives and negatives aren’t set out in tabular form, adoption must be rejected” didn’t actually believe what they were saying.  (It’s one of the advantages of being a lawyer, you don’t have to believe what you are saying in order to say it…)

 

Mr Narey is quite right that the Court of Appeal are clear that where the only option that will meet a child’s needs is adoption, that’s the order that should be sought, and the Court will adjudicate on it. If the social worker thinks that of all of the realistic options, adoption is the only one that can meet the child’s needs, then they can and should go to the ADM to seek approval of that plan. And likewise, if the ADM thinks that, then they can and should approve the plan. And likewise, if the Court conclude that, they can and should make the adoption order.

 

That is encapsulated by this passage

‘[44] … Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs.’

 

If a social worker, or an ADM think that this test is made out, then there’s no reason at all why they shouldn’t put forward a plan of adoption. It might be that when the evidence that lead them to think that is tested in the burning crucible of cross-examination, it is found wanting, but that’s how litigation works.

 

I can’t help but note that Mr Narey in his speech quotes a section of the President’s judgment from Re R  [what he doesn’t do is quote all of the bits in italics are a key part, which rather change the meaning if you ENTIRELY miss them out]

 

It is apparent, and not merely from what Miss James and Miss Johnson have told us, that there is widespread uncertainty, misunderstanding and confusion, which we urgently need to address.

[41] There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an adoption application now has to surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’, or even that ‘adoption is over’, that ‘adoption is a thing of the past.’ There is a feeling that ‘adoption is a last resort’ and ‘nothing else will do’ have become slogans too often taken to extremes, so that there is now “a shying away from permanency if at all possible” and a ‘bending over backwards’ to keep the child in the family if at all possible. There is concern that the fact that ours is one of the few countries in Europe which permits adoption notwithstanding parental objection is adding to the uncertainty as to whether adoption can still be put forward as the right and best outcome for a child.

[42] There is concern that Re B-S is being used as an opportunity to criticise local authorities and social workers inappropriately – there is a feeling that “arguments have become somewhat pedantic over ‘B-S compliance’” – and as an argument in favour of ordering additional and unnecessary evidence and assessments. It is suggested that the number of assessments directed in accordance with section 38(6) of the Children Act 1989 is on the increase. It is said that when social worker assessments of possible family carers are negative, further assessments are increasingly being directed: “To discount a kinship carer, it seems that two negative assessments are required.” There is a sense that the threshold for consideration of family and friends as possible carers has been downgraded and is now “worryingly low”. Mention is made of a case where the child’s solicitor complained that the Re B-S analysis, although set out in the evidence, was not presented in a tabular format.

[43] We are in no position to evaluate either the prevalence or the validity of such concerns in terms of actual practice ‘on the ground’, but they plainly need to be addressed, for they are all founded on myths and misconceptions which need to be run to ground and laid to rest.

[44] I wish to emphasise, with as much force as possible, that Re B-S was not intended to change and has not changed the law. Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs.

 

I appreciate, space is at a premium and when you’re giving a speech you don’t necessarily want to quote great chunks of a judgment, but when you quote as selectively as this, you are turning a passage in a judgment that is saying that where really ridiculous arguments about Re B-S are being used, those are fallacies into something which suggests that Re B-S says nothing of any consequence at all.  It is just plain misleading.

 

Ignore for a moment the “nothing else will do” formulation (although, as outlined above, it is still good law, just not in the ludicrously over-literal way that the Court of Appeal were initially using it).  These are the other changes in child protection law and adoption law since Re B.

 

1. The test for an appeal Court is now whether the Judge was  “wrong” and not whether the Judge was “plainly wrong”.  That is a substantial change, and makes the risk of being appealed in a judgment notably higher.

2. The Court can no longer proceed on a linear analysis.  They MUST look at the pros and cons of each option. This is not a small thing. Prior to this decision, the process was always “look at parent, if no, then look at family member, if no then adoption is all that is left, ergo the ‘last resort’ element is satisfied, it is the last resort because there isn’t anything left”.   If a Local Authority are making a case for adoption, they have to not only show the flaws in the other options, but that the benefits of adoption outweigh the FLAWS in adoption. That requires social workers to fully engage and grapple with the benefits AND flaws of adoption both in general and for a particular child.  If the Adoption Leadership Board want to tackle a single issue, rather than Jedi-hand-waving that ‘this law hasn’t changed, you may go about your business’, training that better equips social workers to do this and proper impartial and evidence-based research about those benefits and flaws would be a damn good start.

3. The rigorous analysis and evidence required as a result in Re B-S is still required.

Let’s look specifically at the example of social work analysis on why adoption was right for a child that the Court of Appeal tore to bits in Re B-S

“a permanent placement where her on-going needs will be met in a safe, stable and nurturing environment. [S]’s permanent carers will need to demonstrate that they are committed to [S], her safety, welfare and wellbeing and that they ensure that she receives a high standard of care until she reaches adulthood

Adoption will give [S] the security and permanency that she requires. The identified carers are experienced carers and have good knowledge about children and the specific needs of children that have been removed from their families …”

 

Prior to 2013, that wasn’t only the sort of thing that you’d see in a social work statement explaining why adoption was the right outcome for a child, it was actually one of the better ones. Prior to 2013, I’d have put that in the top 10% of attempts in a social work statement to explain the benefits of adoption.  This was an A minus attempt.

Let’s look at what the Court of Appeal said

With respect to the social worker … that without more is not a sufficient rationale for a step as significant as permanent removal from the birth family for adoption. The reasoning was in the form of a conclusion that needed to be supported by evidence relating to the facts of the case and a social worker’s expert analysis of the benefits and detriments of the placement options available. Fairness dictates that whatever the local authority’s final position, their evidence should address the negatives and the positives relating to each of the options available. Good practice would have been to have heard evidence about the benefits and detriments of each of the permanent placement options that were available for S within and outside the family.

 

. Most experienced family judges will unhappily have had too much exposure to material as anodyne and inadequate as that described here by Ryder LJ.

40. This sloppy practice must stop. It is simply unacceptable in a forensic context where the issues are so grave and the stakes, for both child and parent, so high.

 

I’ll say it again, because this is important. A formulation that I would have put in the top 10% of analysis that I’d been seeing pre 2013 was DESTROYED by the Court of Appeal as being completely inadequate.  An A minus attempt was given an E.   Whether or not Re B-S changed any legal tests, it certainly raised the bar massively for the standard of evidence and analysis required.

 

4. The test for leave to oppose adoption was dramatically reduced.  Prior to Re B-S, such applications were rare and also very easy to shut down. All you needed was to quote Thorpe LJ in Re W  “However, it cannot be too strongly emphasised that that is an absolute last ditch opportunity and it will only be in exceptionally rare circumstances that permission will be granted after the making of the care order, the making of the placement order, the placement of the child, and the issue of the adoption order application.”  and draw the Court’s attention to the facts of Re P, where parents who had gone on to have another child and keep that child, with no statutory order, hadn’t been sufficient to get them leave to oppose.   Now, the test is substantially reduced.   In particular, these two elements from Re B-S.

 

iii) Once he or she has got to the point of concluding that there has been a change of circumstances and that the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave, the judge must consider very carefully indeed whether the child’s welfare really does necessitate the refusal of leave. The judge must keep at the forefront of his mind the teaching of Re B, in particular that adoption is the “last resort” and only permissible if “nothing else will do” and that, as Lord Neuberger emphasised, the child’s interests include being brought up by the parents or wider family unless the overriding requirements of the child’s welfare make that not possible. That said, the child’s welfare is paramount.

 

and

vi) As a general proposition, the greater the change in circumstances (assuming, of course, that the change is positive) and the more solid the parent’s grounds for seeking leave to oppose, the more cogent and compelling the arguments based on the child’s welfare must be if leave to oppose is to be refused.

 

5.  As we have seen, more leave to oppose applications are being made, and more have been granted.  We also see that the Courts have given judgments in cases where adoption applications have been successfully opposed. To date, the reported cases are where a parent has been able to show that another family member could care for the child instead of prospective adopters who have had the child for 13-18 months.  Such a decision would have been unthinkable in 2012, but they are happening now.  What that means is that if a Court is being invited to make a Placement Order, and the LA are inviting the Court to do so, they have to have good, cogent evidence as to why family members are not suitable instead.  If they don’t get that exercise right first time round, then the child will pay the price when at an adoption hearing 15 months later, the Court may be removing the child from adopters and placing with those family members.

 

 

All of those things, and Lady Hale’s formulation are real things.  It does nobody any favours to ‘jedi-hand-wave’ them out of existence, particularly by chopping up a quote from a judgment so that a person reading it would think that the Court of Appeal had said:-

There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an adoption application now has to surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’, or even that ‘adoption is over’… those impressions are based on myths and misconceptions  

 

when those three little dots are missing out all of the actual substance.

 

Parliament has created a statutory power of adoption. The tests have been laid down in the Act. The Courts have interpreted how those tests are to be delivered in practice.  The Lady Hale formulation in Re B is the test that the Courts will be working towards. To pretend otherwise is misleading.

It does remain the case that where a Local Authority can show that none of the other options before the Court can meet the child’s needs, adoption is an option that they can legitimately pursue.

 

It’s disengenous to pretend that people didn’t understand that.  If social workers and lawyers and ADMs hadn’t grasped that, then there would have been NO applications for Placement Orders.  The numbers went down because the difficulty in obtaining a Placement Order from the Court went up.

 

 

If the social workers, lawyers and ADMs had ‘held their nerve’ in 2013 and made the same number of Placement Order applications, then the Court would have rejected them in huge numbers.  Maybe they all should have done, and let it become the Court’s problem.

Two years later, the same might not still be the case.  Firstly, the over-literal over-prescriptive appeals seem to have died down a bit. Secondly, social workers have got more used to the rigorous standards that are required in terms of their evidence and are better equipped to present their evidence to those standards.

 

 

 

 

 

Oedipus Wrecks

I have written about some strange cases involving the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, but this one might be the strangest.

 

Re B v C (Surrogacy : Adoption) 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/17.html

 

[Read the piece first, it makes more sense that way – don’t read the judgment till you have read the piece]

 

In this case B (let’s call him Bob, because it makes following the story a bit easier) decides that he wants to have a baby. Bob doesn’t have a partner, he is a single man in his twenties, but he wants to have a baby.

 

Bob decides to get a surrogate mother to have his baby. This surrogate mother is C (let’s call her Carol – not her real name).

 

Carol is married to D (let’s call him Derek). Derek consents to this procedure.

 

The baby is born. The baby is A (let’s call him Alfie)

 

The baby is the biological child of Bob and Carol. But the legal parents are Carol and Derek. Bob doesn’t have PR. Bob is not the child’s legal father, Derek is.   (Because he is married to Carol and consented to the pregnancy – if he wasn’t married or didn’t consent, Bob would have been the legal father)

 

So Bob makes his application to Court. Now, as a single parent, a parental order is not open to him (which is the usual order sought post surrogacy)

 

Under section 54 of the HFEA 2008 in situations where a child has been carried by another woman a parental order can be made by the court, this provides for a child to be treated in law as the child of the applicants. However, all the requirements under section 54 have to be met, one of which is that there have to be two applicants who are either married, civil partners or are ‘two persons who are living as partners in an enduring family relationship and are not within prohibited degrees of relationship in relation to each other.’ (Section 54 (2)). A single person is therefore unable to apply for a parental order.

 

Bob has to instead, as a single carer, apply for an adoption order. As he isn’t the child’s legal father, he is not prohibited from adopting his own child (because legally it isn’t his child because of Derek’s marriage to Carol and consent to the process)

 

 

With me so far?

 

Here is the tricky part.

 

How should I say this? Remember Carol, who had the baby on Bob’s behalf? Well, on Sunday 15th March, Bob will be sending Carol a card. Not just on Alfie’s behalf, as many dads do. But on his own behalf.

 

Carol is Bob’s mum. Derek is Bob’s stepdad.

 

Remember at the moment that the biological parents of Alfie are Bob and Carol * But the legal ones are Carol and Derek.
[*A commentator on Twitter has found in the judgment the reference to there being an egg-donor that I couldn’t find in the judgment. So genetically Carol is not Alfie’s mother]

Alfie is biologically Bob’s son and also his brother. But legally, Alfie is Bob’s brother.

 

Mrs Justice Theis must have called on all of her powers of understatement to summarise this arrangement as :-

 

This, admittedly, unusual arrangement was entered into by the parties after careful consideration, following each having individual counselling and with all the treatment being undertaken by a fertility clinic licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) who are required under the HFEA code to consider the welfare of the child before embarking on any treatment.

 

 

Is this legal? It feels like it shouldn’t be legal? Is it legal? I agree with you, it doesn’t feel like you should be able to have a baby with your own mother, even if it is artificial insemination. That feels like a baby who is going to spend a lifetime in therapy.

 

Always worth examining your own thoughts when you have a strong visceral reaction to something. It is pretty common in surrogacy for a woman to ask her sister to have the baby for her; if Bob was Betty and Carol was Betty’s sister that wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow. Why is it that surrogacy between a mother and son feels… somehow a bit “Take a Break” ?

 

[I suppose on this basis, a female Bob – let’s call her Betty, could decide to have a baby with artificial insemination with her dad Derek providing the raw material. Let’s call that baby Electra and be done with it. I’d be interested to know which scenario makes you feel less comfortable, or even whether you have no adverse thoughts about either]

 

It is legal and the people involved in this, from what I read of the judgment, are all perfectly normal, sensible and decent people who used a legal solution to solve Bob’s problem that he wanted to be a father and didn’t want to wait till he found a partner. (That again is something that if Bob was Betty, nobody would bat an eyelid about)

 

Unusually, and where the legal aspect of this case is noteworthy, is that it is only the fact that Bob and Carol are related that stops the agreement they reached about Bob adopting Alfie being a criminal offence.

 

Underlining here shows all the offences that would have been committed by Carol agreeing to have a baby for Bob to adopt (if they weren’t mother and son)

 

The ACA 2002 provides restrictions on arranging adoptions in section 92, the relevant part provides

 

 

(1) A person who is neither an adoption agency nor acting in pursuance of an order of the High Court must not take any of the steps mentioned in subsection (2).

 

(2) The steps are—

 

 

(a) asking a person other than an adoption agency to provide a child for adoption,

(b) asking a person other than an adoption agency to provide prospective adopters for a child,

(c) offering to find a child for adoption,

(d) offering a child for adoption to a person other than an adoption agency,

(e) handing over a child to any person other than an adoption agency with a view to the child’s adoption by that or another person,

(f) receiving a child handed over to him in contravention of paragraph (e),

(g) entering into an agreement with any person for the adoption of a child, or for the purpose of facilitating the adoption of a child, where no adoption agency is acting on behalf of the child in the adoption,

(h) initiating or taking part in negotiations of which the purpose is the conclusion of an agreement within paragraph (g),

(i) causing another person to take any of the steps mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (h).

 

 

 

(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to a person taking any of the steps mentioned in paragraphs (d), (e), (g), (h) and (i) of subsection (2) if the following condition is met.

(4) The condition is that—

(a) the prospective adopters are parents, relatives or guardians of the child (or one of them is), or

(b) the prospective adopter is the partner of a parent of the child.

 

Breach of s 92 is a criminal offence under s 93 ACA 2002.

 

 

We’ve established that the actions of Bob and Carol would amount to a criminal offence under s92.

 

There are two circumstances in which the offence doesn’t apply, from s92(4)

 

Either Bob is a parent, relative or guardian of the child

 

OR he is Carol’s partner (which thankfully he isn’t) or Derek’s partner (which he isn’t)

 

He isn’t, in law a parent or Guardian of Alfie, but he might be a relative.

 

And the relative bit is defined in s144 ACA “relative”, in relation to a child, means a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt, whether of the full blood or half-blood or by marriage [or civil partnership]

 

 

So the offences in s92 don’t apply (I actually think that offence s92(a) which isn’t covered by the s92(4) defence still applies, but it does seem a bit weird if ‘asking someone if they will have a child that you can adopt’ is a crime whereas ‘negotiating with them with a view to achieving that’ isn’t. So I can’t see anyone in Bob’s position being prosecuted for that)

 

What this case shows is that if you are a single person, surrogacy is something of a legal minefield. You can’t apply for a Parental Order. And if you plan instead to go the adoption route, then you risk falling foul of the criminal offences – since if you aren’t directly related to the child taking any step to arrange or agree it or handing over the child is a criminal offence.

 

The placement would also be a Private Fostering Placement pending the court making its decision (unless like Bob, you are related to the child), meaning that social workers would need to be involved.

 

  1. By virtue of the provisions of the HFEA 2008 set out above A and B have the same parents and, therefore, B is the legal brother of A. This means that in the unusual circumstances of this case, B met the conditions of s92 (4) (a) ACA 2002 with the result that when C and D placed A for adoption with B they were acting lawfully.

 

 

  1. The parties have also drawn my attention to the fact that, were it not for the highly unusual fact that B is a relative of A, when C and D placed A into B’s care, the placement would have fallen within the definition of a private fostering arrangement under the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005 (SI 2005/1533).

 

 

  1. These regulations impose an obligation on both the legal parents of a child, as well as the proposed carer, to notify the appropriate local authority of the intention to care for a child under a private fostering arrangement. The obligation in these regulations arises of out the Secretary of State’s power to make regulations under paragraph 7 of Schedule 8 of the Children Act 1989 (CA 1989), which in turn supplements the provisions in s.66 of the CA 1989. Breach of the provisions of s.66 CA 1989 is an offence under s.70 CA 1989. It is of note that when a child born as a result of a surrogacy agreement, is placed in the care of intended parents who intend to apply for a parental order, the placement is not treated as a private fostering arrangement because of the effect of The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Parental Orders) Regulations 2010 Sch 4 para 12).

 

 

  1. What this case highlights, is that but for the close familial relationship between B and C, their actions would have breached these important statutory provisions and potentially left them liable to a criminal prosecution under both s.93 ACA 2002 and s.70 CA 1989.

 

 

  1. It is therefore imperative that single parents contemplating parenthood through surrogacy obtain comprehensive legal advice as to how to proceed as adoption is the only means to ensure that they are the only legal parents of their child. The process under which they can achieve this is a legal minefield, they need to ensure that all the appropriate steps are undertaken to secure lifelong legal security regarding their status with the child.

 

 

The wording of s92 opens the door to the possibility that a single carer could do all of this if the High Court had granted permission in advance. I can’t think for the life of me what application you’d make (before the birth of the child or discussion about whether a stranger would have a baby for you to adopt had happened) but on the wording of s92, it seems like the High Court can by giving its blessing stop those actions being a crime.

 

 

The adoption order was made (and despite my own personal feelings of disquiet / ickiness about the perfectly legal arrangements, it is worth noting that the professional and independent assessments about everyone were clear that Bob would be a great carer for Alfie)

 

What is apparent from the reports is that the parties thought carefully about this arrangement, pausing, reflecting and seeking advice at each stage. In my judgment a critical feature of this case are the obviously close relationships within this family; it is an arrangement that was entered into not only with the support of the parties to this application, but, importantly, also the wider family. The strength of these familial relationships, and the consequent support they provide now and in the future, will ensure A’s lifelong welfare needs are met. An adoption order will provide the legal security to A’s relationship with B, which will undoubtedly meet A’s long term welfare needs.

 

 

Therefore, B’s application will be granted and an adoption order made.

 

 

All the very best for Bob and Alfie (not their real names) in the future.

 

If you do have a client call into your office to discuss with you their plans to have a baby with their own mother, then (a) you now know what to do and (b) if you can maintain your face as an impassive mask then I am never playing poker with you.

 

 

 

 

Flawed placement order application

 

When you call a case  RE EF (flawed Placement Order application) 2015, you are laying down a marker that this is going to be a judgment that makes criticisms. And so it does.

 

In fact when you read it, had the Judge designated this case as Re EF (Local Authority screw everything up, badly) 2015, that would not cause anyone in the Trades Description Act enforcement department to be concerned.

 

This is a judgment from a Circuit Judge, which means that it is not binding, but lessons can still be drawn from it. It was delivered by His Honour Judge Wildblood QC (who readers may recall fixed the tangle on banning a UKIP parliamentary candidate from allowing his younger children to participate in any political activity)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2015/B21.html

 

If you are umming-and-ahing about whether to read on, let me give you this titbit.

For reasons that will be apparent, I cannot have any confidence at all that the authority would operate appropriately under a placement order in relation to this child; I have never said that before in a judgment about any authority. The guardian shares my lack of confidence.

 

Still with me? Yes, I thought so.

 

I can’t really better how the Judge opens the case, so I will just quote it.   [When a Judge is kicking your ass and being kind about it, that actually feels worse than being roasted by an angry Judge – just like when your parent tries the “I’m not cross with you, I’m disappointed” is astonishingly effective – at least the first time round]

 

1. Foreword – Of course many cases reveal a few points of bad practice. However it is very rare that so many such points should be gathered into one case. It has taken two years and five months for these proceedings to be resolved. The case was listed in front of me (even though I had had no previous dealings with it save for a short procedural directions hearing 18 months ago) because there were such difficulties with it that it was thought necessary for it to come before me as the Designated Family Judge. I can see why.

2. This is an application for a placement order in relation to a little girl who is 4½ years old and who is already subject to a care order. It is a case that reveals multiple failures. The principal failures have been those of the Local Authority but there have also been failures within the court led process and by those who represent the parties. The delay speaks for itself but, in this judgment, I will set out what has happened. Despite what is said in Re W [2014] EWFC 22 orders of the court have been ignored. In one instance the Local Authority chose to ignore an order of the court (i.e. it declined to carry out an assessment of the father despite having been ordered to do so). In another instance the Local Authority failed to do what it had agreed to do (i.e. issue a placement application within a timescale agreed on the face of an order – by 30th October 2013- choosing to leave it for another four months before the application was issued on 18th February 2014). There has been sequential presentation of applications, as to which there are now the authorities of Surrey County Council v S [2014] EWCA Civ and Re R [2014] EWCA Civ 1625 [para 20]; here a care order was made in October 2013 with a view to the child being placed for adoption and, seventeen months on, I am hearing the placement application. This is the fifth listed hearing of this application for a placement order with each adjournment being necessitated by the inadequacy of the evidence that the Local Authority has provided. The analysis of options is inadequate (and does not analysis to any sufficient degree the benefit to the child of maintaining contact with her natural family). The professional assessments do not weigh up adequately the pros and cons of the competing options for this child (and the experts both gave evidence about the negatives of the father’s position without being asked to consider the negatives of adoption, such as the loss of family contact). The social worker who is the social worker responsible for this case, carried out a viability assessment of the father, and wrote the Local Authority’s final evidence has never met the father (except at court). The authority has had permission to investigate available foster and adoptive carers since September 2013; it has not investigated long term fostering as an option at all (despite saying that it would on many occasions – see e.g. page 38 of the transcript of the evidence of the social worker Ms Morley) and despite its apparent searches has had one expression of interest from a couple who know nothing about the specific details of the child. There has been no judicial continuity.

3. I realise that the Local Authority management will be as deeply disappointed as I am that a case comes before a court in this area in this condition. Criticism is often far from helpful and I would much prefer to work with authorities to improve matters rather than deliver criticisms from the bench. However, if I make a placement order I cannot attach conditions to it; as examined in helpful closing speeches, the power to attach contact provisions to a placement order under section 26 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 bears a large number of practical difficulties (e.g. contact until when?). As Ms Rowsell said in her realistic and helpful closing speech – the Local Authority asks you to have confidence that it will operate appropriately under a placement order but accepts that the past means that there is little reason for it to do so. For reasons that will be apparent, I cannot have any confidence at all that the authority would operate appropriately under a placement order in relation to this child; I have never said that before in a judgment about any authority. The guardian shares my lack of confidence.

 

Although clearly the bulk of the faults here have been with the Local Authority, the Judge recognises that the lack of judicial continuity and control has been a factor as well.  It was wrong to have made the Care Order in the first place when the care plan was for adoption and there was no Placement Order application, it was wrong to have tolerated that drift, it was wrong to have allowed the timetable to get so out of hand.

 

Again, I will pick out one devastating line

 

The social worker who is the social worker responsible for this case, carried out a viability assessment of the father, and wrote the Local Authority’s final evidence has never met the father (except at court).

 

Can I resist the urge here to make a sarcastic aside about how that is standard practice for some (not all) Guardians?  No, it appears that like Oscar Wilde I can resist everything except temptation.

 

 

This next bit is music to my ears – it something that particularly vexes me and I am pleased to see a Judge dealing with it. It is the issue of getting to a final hearing without it being plain what orders each party invites the Court to make.  It is not that helpful to just know that X opposes Y, what you need to know is what order does X propose instead?

The only application before the court is that of the Local Authority for a placement order. There are no actual applications by either of the parents. On the scale of things involved in this case, I advance this point as one of mild criticism only and primarily for the purposes of clarifying what I am dealing with. But there should either have been applications setting out the orders sought or at least a record on the face of orders as to what applications are being pursued. The nearest that one gets is to look at the order at B128 that states that ‘the father wishes EF to be placed with him. The mother wishes for EF to be placed with her. The paternal grandmother wishes for EF to be placed with the father but if not with him then with herself’. On behalf the father I was told that he seeks a child arrangements order. I hope that it is not just legal pedantry to say that the nature of the orders sought should be identified not just for the purposes of clarity and definition but also because some applications involve different procedural requirements – for instance I had no idea whether the paternal grandmother might be seeking a special guardianship order in default of placement with the father. Of course no judge wants to see money and trees wasted in making unnecessary paper applications and it is often acceptable to record that parties are deemed to have applied for orders. But there must be some attempt at formality in establishing who is seeking what orders.

 

On a factual basis, the Gordian knot in this case seems to be that the Placement Order / adoption route was only the plan for this girl, who was 4 1/2 by the time of this hearing, and that her older siblings would be placed elsewhere. A plan of adoption would not only sever her relationship with her parents, but with those siblings. There might be circumstances in which that was still in the child’s best interests, but it is a very important aspect to be balanced in reaching that decision – the Court would need to know why an alternative option (like placing with father or long-term foster carer) which would not have the detriment of ending the sibling relationship would not be right for this particular child. And that never really got answered to the Court’s satisfaction.

 

For some reason the two experts instructed in the case weren’t asked to address this issue in their reports, and thus didn’t. And the social worker didn’t address the sibling relationship and merits of contact in  final evidence.

As it is the attempt to weigh up the competing options within the paperwork has to be taken from Mr Gray’s final statement. There are any number of difficulties with that document. Firstly, there has been no Local Authority assessment of the importance of contact between the siblings; the arrangements for this have largely been left to the three sets of foster carers. Secondly, the only assessment of the father (including three contact sessions) that Mr Gray wrote was the positive viability assessment; the quality of contact with the father and the importance of his role are not analysed when considering the options. Thirdly, the difficulties in finding adopters was not considered (the Local Authority has already had 17 months to do this). Fourthly, the fact that the Local Authority has not looked for foster carers at all is not mentioned

 

In a case like this, the search for foster carers would be a vital component. If you search and can’t find any, it is an important piece of evidence about the likelihood of being able to find one in the future. If you find some, then you have provided the Court with concrete options to choose between. You can’t really sidestep the issue by not even looking.

Especially when your care plan six months ago when the Care Order had been made was to triple track and look for adoptive placements, foster placements and assess dad.  Having done none of those things, it wasn’t really even a single track.  Having said they would in effect build a tricycle, the Local Authority turned up for this final hearing with a care plan where the wheels had come off completely.

The care plan states that the Local Authority would plan to search exclusively for an adoptive placement for six months following the making of a placement order. That amounts to a departure from what was being said in September and October 2013 where the case was to be twin tracked between fostering and adoption and permission was given for this to occur. Further, the Local Authority was again given permission to seek adoptive and long term fostering placements in September 2014 (i.e. six months ago) with the intention that it would pursue a triple track analysis – adoption, fostering and placement with father. It did not pursue fostering at all, failed to assess the father properly despite being ordered to do so and can offer one tentative enquiry about adoption from a couple who expressed interest ‘before Christmas’ and have not been investigated further.

 

And what of the future? And sibling contact? What were the Local Authorities proposals?

19. If an adoptive placement is not found in six months the Local Authority says that it would give further consideration to long-term foster care. In six months time EF will be five and in her second year of school education (she is just ‘rising five’ for this school year – C10). Thus her start at school in September 2014 took place from interim foster care 11 months after the care order was made and seven months after the placement application was made.

20. The care plan is non-specific about contact between the three siblings; at C179 the social worker says: ‘direct contact would be promoted [between the three siblings] if this was assessed as being in EF’s best interests and risks associated with their ongoing contacts with the wider birth family could be mitigated. Adopters open to promotion of direct contact would be recruited by the agency’. The guardian said this about inter sibling contact in her oral evidence: ‘The contact between EF and one of her brothers has included an overnight stay. There has been inter sibling contact three times a year with all three children together but there is also separate monthly contact between EF and one of the her brothers and less frequent contact between EF and her other brother. Ideally, if EF is placed for adoption, an adopter would have to accept inter sibling contact although this will not be easy because the parents will continue to have contact with the boys and adopters might find that difficult’. Having considered matters overnight, and after a period of adjournment for reflection, the guardian through her solicitor and in her presence said that one could not have any confidence that the Local Authority would deal with this issue of inter sibling contact appropriately and there was a very risk that it would not press for or find adopters who would tolerate inter sibling contact. Thus there was a very real risk that a placement order would result in this child losing all contact with all of her family members.

21. The care plan also proposes indirect (i.e. written) contact between the children twice a year (which is not easy to envisage given the ages of the children) as well as cards at birthdays and Christmas. As to the parents, maternal grandmother and paternal grandparents the care plan suggests that they should have indirect contact only, once a year and Mr Gray, the social worker suggests at C179 that ‘this enables the continued development of [EF]’s identity and comprehension of her birth family story within safe parameters’. When considering the proposals for contact nothing is said about the quality of the father’s contact to date. It was agreed in closing speeches (on my enquiry) that the contact between this father and this child has been ‘good and loving’. The contact notes are at enclosure F.

Remember that one of the wheels on the Local Authority’s care plan (on which the Court made a final Care Order) was an assessment of the father? What happened with that?

  There was also a preliminary parenting assessment of the father at C108 by the social worker, Mr Gray, dated 22nd October 2014. It suggested that further in depth assessment of the father was necessitated and that this would take two months to complete [C111]. The preliminary report was positive in its assessment of the father and suggested at C110 that a good attachment had been observed between the father and EF (a suggestion that Dr Edwards doubts to be correct – E37); however, at C111 Mr Gray said that there were a number of matters not covered by the assessment such as home life, providing EF with appropriate clothing, getting her to and from school, managing her behaviour and providing her with a stable environment. What is more, the person writing the assessment is Mr Gray, who has never met the father except when attending court hearings (again I say more about this later).

41. Notwithstanding the positive nature of Mr Gray’s initial report, there was then a statement filed on 6th November 2014 by Mr Tyrrell of the Local Authority child permanence team (C131); in it Mr Tyrrell stated that the Local Authority did not intend to assess the father because the ‘timescales for EF would not allow them to do so’ [C135]. The order of the Recorder of 3rd September 2014 states at paragraph 14: ‘The Local Authority shall carry out a parenting assessment of father and this shall be filed and served by 17th October 2014’. The Local Authority accepts on the face of Mr Tyrrell’s statement that it did not carry out a full assessment in accordance with that order [C135]. That is inexcusable. The order to carry out a parenting assessment means that the Local Authority should carry out a proper parenting assessment; on the very face of Mr Gray’s statement his work was not a parenting assessment, as he himself accepted in evidence.

42. The Local Authority’s decision not to assess the father properly was deliberate and considered; since that decision was in direct contravention of a court order I do not see how I can describe it other than as contemptuous. Nor do I accept that an assessment of the father would have taken two months; it would have taken as long as those involved chose.

 

So there was a positive viability assessment of father, the Court ordered a parenting assessment of him be filed and the Local Authority decided not to do it.

I have certain withering views of my own about how helpful it is for the President to cascade judgments suggesting that parties who are four hours later in filing a document should obtain a Court order in advance extending the deadline, but this is a kettle containing entirely different fish altogether.

We have all been late, we probably (despite our sincere desire for the contrary) will be late in the future. I HATE being late, it makes me feel sick and stops me sleeping. But it does happen.  But if you get ordered to file an assessment of a father, you file something, even if it is late. You don’t just decide not to do it. For a case where your plan is adoption.

 

In his oral evidence Mr Gray said this. When he carried out his parenting assessment he did not see any of the case papers from the care proceedings. He did not meet the father when preparing it (and has never met him even now despite having been the social worker for EF since the end of October 2014 and being called as the only witness for the Local Authority at this hearing). Is it acceptable for a social worker to prepare care plans and file Local Authority evidence, including evidence of options and services, without ever meeting the one member of the family who seeks to care for the child concerned? One can never say ‘never’ to that question but, on the facts of this case, it was obviously inappropriate for Mr Gray to come to give evidence without ever meeting this father.

44. Mr Gray said that, since his involvement, the Local Authority has discounted the parents and so it was not thought appropriate for him to meet with them. He was not aware that the court had adjourned a final hearing because of the inadequacy of the Local Authority evidence particularly in relation to the assessment of the father. He accepted that his assessment was not a complete parenting assessment and said that he told the legal department that there needed to be a full assessment of the father.

45. There is no analysis of the contact that has taken place between the father and this child save for the three contact visits that Mr Gray did not himself observe; Ms Griffiths, who did observe them, said this at C110: ‘in general, the nature of all three observations does suggest a good attachment between EF and her father. Indeed, there was one poignant moment shared by them both when they discussed how much they missed each other’.

Poor Mr Gray gets somewhat hung out to dry here – he picked up the case after the Care Order was made and believed that what he was inheriting was a completed piece of work where all that really needed to be done was the paperwork to do a Placement Order application. That was far from the case, and there appears to have been a serious breakdown in communication as to what the new social worker would need to do in this case – the triple track of exploring potential adopters, exploring foster care and assessing dad (all against the backdrop of what each of these options might mean for EF and her siblings)

Remember all of the recent judicial strictures about keeping the bundles to 350 pages? Bear this in mind

 None of the important documentation from the care proceedings was in the court bundle and so I called for the court file to be retrieved from the basement of the court office. It is from that file that I found the order of the District Judge of 1st October 2013. I also found the care plan that was made on 20th September 2013 which states that ‘a search to identify a suitable adoptive placement for her will be made; alongside this a long term foster placement will be sought as a fall back position’. No long term placements have been identified. The care plan states that the child ‘is due to be considered by the agency’s decision maker on 16/10/13’ (i.e. 15 days after the final care hearing – why? – the care plan proposed adoption).

 

There were even problems with the threshold – the basis on which the original Care Order had been made.

 

 

 

 

 51. There is no record within the bundle about the terms in which the threshold criteria were fulfilled for the purposes of the making of the care order. Indeed, on my exploration of the two large court files there was no copy of a threshold document on file. I had to ask for it to be produced and it came into being on the second day of this hearing.

52. Further, the District Judge said this in his October 2013 judgment: ‘I incorporate into this judgment by reference two important documents, firstly the agreed final threshold document that set out the agreed facts as at the time that the application was brought and, secondly, the findings of fact that I have already made on the previous occasion’. When I asked ‘what findings were made and on what previous occasion’, there was some confusion because, within the court file, there was a schedule of findings that the Local Authority was seeking with responses from the mother. I asked: ‘Had there been a fact finding hearing?’ It appears that there was not. The District Judge did deliver a judgment in September and stated that his October judgment was a continuation of that earlier judgment. I do not have a transcript of what he said in September.

53. It is very unfortunate that I do not have a transcript of what the District Judge said in September because it was in the September that the Judge reached the conclusions that I have already set out above. Plainly it is important for me to understand the welfare basis for that. I would have thought that the Local Authority would have wanted such a transcript also so that it could guide their work. Emphasising the importance of a judgment is not judicial pique or self importance. A judgment is given after everyone has had an opportunity to have their say and it represents the rule of law in practice. If judgments and orders are just ignored, as they have been here, what follows? Further, the judgment allows people to distinguish between what is established fact and what is no more than allegation. It also explains why people are being ordered to do things.

54. The threshold document relates to the time when proceedings were started – that is 2012. Therefore it does not record the issues that were contemporary at the time of the care order and led to the conclusion that only care with a view to adoption would do. Further the document suffered from many of the deficiencies identified recently by the President in Re A (a child) [2015] EWFC 11 (the Darlington case); for instance: ‘there are concerns as to the rough handling of the children ….there are concerns as to the general care of the children’. The threshold criteria were fulfilled on the basis of the violence between the parents, the neglect of the children, the parents lack of engagement with an assessment, the social hostility towards the parents, the parents misuse of drink and drugs and the parents’ failure to seek medical advice for the children after they suffered ‘unexplained injuries’.

If you are doing a quick head count – in this case the bundle didn’t have the right documents in it, the threshold was both wishy washy and hadn’t actually got put in the bundle, the social worker hadn’t met the father he was assessing, the experts hadn’t been asked to assess the most important thing, a triple track care plan turned into a ‘what’s a track?’ care plan, the Local Authority had been ordered to file an application for a Placement Order and filed it four months late, and the Court had granted a Care Order with a plan that looked like adoption without actually having a Placement Order application to consider (and, it turns out, without the Local Authority having Agency Decision Maker approval to actually do that)

In this case, the Local Authority were not just flirting with disaster, they had bought disaster dinner and had a toothbrush in their bag hoping that disaster would ask them to stay over.

The conclusion

135. Conclusion – I do not consider that it has been demonstrated to me that the welfare of EF requires that she be placed for adoption. I do not consider that it has been demonstrated to me that the less interventionist solution of fostering is inconsistent with her welfare. I think that the detriments of adoption outweigh the advantages as matters now appear. I think it highly unlikely that the Local Authority would twin track the case between fostering and adoption if a placement order were to be made. I think that such an order would be highly likely to result in all contact between this girl and her family ending. I do not consider such an order to necessary or proportionate and I do not consider that the making of such an order would place her welfare as the paramount consideration throughout out her life.

136. I therefore dismiss the application for a placement order. The effect is that EF will remain in care and will continue to have contact with her natural family. I will hear submissions if necessary on another occasion as to the arrangements for contact.

The only crumb of comfort for the LA is that in the face of a judgment like that, there wasn’t a paragraph 137 about an application for costs.

A tale of One Telegraph – follow up

I said that I would look out for the transcript of the judgment that Mr Booker was reporting about

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/02/16/a-tale-of-two-telegraphs/

The bare facts that we knew were – His Honour Judge Jones, two boys, a bruise, and an older child, and Placement Orders being made.

This case here, ticks all of those boxes

Re A (a child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B200.html

I don’t want to get stuck into the facts too much, because there’s no way to be SURE that it is the same case that Mr Booker was writing about. You may recall that the central complaint in Mr Booker’s piece was that the parents weren’t able to fight the case and were not allowed into Court.

From Re A, the Court say this:-

 

  1. The parties to the applications and their legal representations are as follows:
  • the Local Authority, X County Council brings both applications in respect of the children and are represented today by Miss Beattie;
  • the children’s mother L is represented today by Miss Erwood. The mother has been present during the course of today, but she like the father has decided not to remain within this courtroom this afternoon for the purposes of this judgment. That decision is perfectly understandable so far as the Court is concerned;
  • The children’s father is CC. He shares parental responsibility for the children. He is represented by Mr Blythin;
  • The children are represented by their Guardian Miss Siân Wilson who has been present today and is represented by their solicitor Miss Debbie Owens.

 

A parent deciding that they don’t want to come in and hear the judgment is not that uncommon, and is an utterly different thing to being told they aren’t allowed to come in.

It can’t be an easy thing to listen to, particularly where (as these parents did) they have decided not to fight the case and they know that the outcome is going to be something that will break their heart.

One of Mr Booker’s complaints is that the parents were told that there was no prospect of appeal. That would be right in this case, because the parents decided not to oppose the case. It would be an extremely unlikely scenario that a person can decide not to fight a case and then the same day have legal grounds to appeal the decision.

It is always difficult with a Mr Booker story to be sure when you actually have the judgment that matches up with his case, and in his defence, it could be that this is another case entirely.

There’s nothing improper about the judgment in Re A – it considers everything that needs to be looked at, it is not a rubber stamp, it gives proper regard to the evidence and the legal tests and it is as kind as a Judge can be in those difficult circumstances.

IF this is the case that Mr Booker complains of, there is absolutely nothing in it that warrants the level of complaint he was making.

They had legal representation, they were entitled to go into the Court, they were entitled to instruct their lawyers to fight the case. By the sounds of it, they were given advice that the chances of doing so successfully were very poor and they decided not to put themselves through that ordeal. Perhaps they regretted it almost immediately. Perhaps they feel in hindsight that they didn’t feel that they had a choice. Perhaps they wish that they had fought the case and that they will never know now what might have happened. But they had the choice to make, and they made that choice with legal advice.

Perhaps (and I really don’t want to besmirch these particular lawyers, it is more of a general complaint) lawyers don’t always make it completely clear enough to parents that the lawyer is there to advise them, but that the parent can refuse to take that advice. They can tell the lawyer to fight on, and the lawyer’s job then is to fearlessly represent that client without fear or favour.  You can tell your lawyer, thanks, but not thanks.

Unlike a boxing cornerman, your lawyer can’t throw in the towel on your behalf, even if they think you will take a horrible beating. Only you can throw the towel in.

[One can accept of course that someone can legitimately hold a view that adoption is wrong in all cases and that any case involving adoption is thus wrong and unfair. If that’s your view, then like Ian of Forced Adoption, you’re entitled to make complaint about all and any cases. But if you are instead arguing that in this particular case, the parents were robbed of a fair hearing, and denied due process, there’s nothing to support that assertion]

If it isn’t the same case (and he is able quite easily to establish the date of the final hearing and who was representing the parents to show otherwise) then we will have to wait and see for when the real case he was writing about shows up.

 

There ARE things that go wrong in family law, there are cases where parents are done great injustice (like the HH Judge Dodds case that Mr Booker also writes about) and it is a good thing that there are people to make those injustices known. It is only by dragging them into the light that things will get better.  But we do also have to be responsible in reporting and be sure that if we are shouting that there’s a wolf that what you are seeing is really a wolf.

 

Objection to gay adopters

This is an interesting news item from PinkNews  (rather than Pink Tape for once)

Allowing same sex couples to adopt was highly controversial and politicised – almost the entire Parliamentary debate about the 2002 Adoption and Children Act was taken up by this sole issue. We have even had a Children’s Minister within this Parliament who is staunchly opposed to it. But it has been law now for 13 years and same sex couples can legally adopt.

This news item relates to a Magistrate hearing a set of care proceedings, and remarking to his colleagues in the retiring room that he would prefer the child to go back to mum and dad than go to a gay adopter.

[Of course, any Magistrate hearing a family case ought to prefer that a child live with birth parents if possible, rather than adopters, but the sexuality of the adopters shouldn’t really be a factor]

The Magistrate was suspended and sent on various awareness courses – I think with mixed success, given what he has to say about the situation now

There is tremendous pressure to keep quiet and go along with what is seen to be politically correct.

“Everyone else seems to be allowed to stand up for their beliefs except for Christians.

“I think there is something about a man, a woman and a baby, that it’s natural and therefore the others are not. That is the comment that I made.

“Therefore, since my task as a magistrate is to do the best for the child, my feeling was, quite reasonably, that a man and a woman would be better.”

 

[Also the fact that he is getting advice from an anti-gay pressure group suggest to me that maybe his diversity training to re-educate him hasn’t completely worked]

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/01/18/family-court-magistrate-suspended-after-objecting-to-gay-parents/

 

It clearly isn’t right for someone with such views to sit on a family case where the issue arises – but is it okay for him to do other cases but recuse himself from any case that involves same sex adopters, or indeed parents?  Or do attitudes of this kind end up colouring your approach on other matters?

For example, might someone with this sort of belief system also take an overly harsh view of a mother who has had an abortion, if the Magistrate holds the view that abortion (though legal) is morally wrong?

It will not be a massive surprise to readers that the comments section on this piece in Pink News reads rather differently to the comments section on the same basic story in the Mail.

I’ve never been in a position of having to give a judgment, and am never likely to be – though if by some clerical error I find myself in the Supreme Court I’m going to choose to be called Lord Vader. I imagine that you must bring something of yourself to the process – Judges aren’t robots – they have human experiences and thoughts of their own. The key is to be able to identify for yourself if you are putting too much weight on feelings rather than facts and evidence and legal principles.

I would put this as a must-read (adoption case, dynamite)

 

The case is very fact-specific (the facts are extraordinary) but it is still very important.

 

I’ve written before about the leave to oppose adoption case law and whether this is a meaningful legal right given that there are no reported cases of an adoption being successfully opposed (there’s one law report of a Court being persuaded to make a Residence Order rather than adoption, but the child remaining with the prospective adopters).

 

For it to be a meaningful legal right, there must be some set of circumstances which would result in the opposition to adoption resulting in placement back in the birth family. But, the consequences of that for the recruitment and retention of adopters is massive.

 

As Holman J observed, this case is likely to attract strong opinions on both sides, and it does turn very much on an unprecedented set of facts.

 

Re A and B and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/47.html

 

 

 

The child, C, was the subject of Care proceedings and a Care Order and Placement Order were made in August 2013. The child was placed with prospective adopters (A and B) and they duly applied for an adoption order.

 

At the time of this hearing, the child was 20 months old and had lived with A and B for 13 months.

 

The child’s genetic father, who had not been a party to the care proceedings (and who does not hold PR for the child) sought leave to oppose.

 

This is the telling paragraph

 

It is accepted by all concerned in this case that if the father had come forward and the true paternity had been established at any time up to the moment when the child was actually placed with A and B, then he would not have been placed with them and, after due assessment of her, would almost certainly have been placed with the aunt.

 

 

I’d urge you to read the whole thing, but that paragraph is dynamite.

 

As is this one

 

The case and dilemma has provoked divergent professional opinions. The front line social workers for each of the child and A and B support the making of an adoption order. A child psychologist who was jointly instructed to perform a “paper exercise”, but has not met anyone concerned, favours the making of an adoption order. The Director of Safeguarding Children and Families and interim Strategic Director Children’s Services of the local authority (equivalent to the Director of Social Services in this field), who is the decision maker and who expresses the considered opinion and case of the local authority, firmly resists adoption and advocates that the child moves to live with the aunt. The child’s guardian also strongly advocates that outcome.

 

 

That made me blink several times, so I will spell it out. The social workers supported the adoption, but the Guardian AND MORE SIGNIFICANTLY the Director of Social Services supported the child being placed with the paternal aunt.

 

That really is an extremely difficult issue to resolve. As a Local Authority legal hack, the idea of a Director and Social Worker in an intractable difference of opinion makes me shudder. [This Director was clearly very fair minded in not just saying “well, I’m the big boss, so do what I say”]

 

I’m not surprised by what Holman J says at the opening of this judgment.

 

 

I have been a full time judge of the Family Division for almost twenty years. In all that time, apart from cases concerning serious ill health, I have rarely heard a more harrowing case. The hearing was a very painful one for all concerned, and I sincerely thank all parties and the professional witnesses for their attention, dignity and, to the extent possible, good humour. I know, and deeply regret, that my decision will cause intense grief. After hearing all the evidence and argument, and after due consideration, I am, however, clear as to the outcome, which I do not reach narrowly or marginally.

 

 

I’ve read many of Holman J’s judgments over the last few years, and he really has dealt with harrowing, peculiar and emotionally draining cases repeatedly, so to say that speaks volumes.

 

 

This passage will probably appear again – it is how the Court deals with the issue of “speculation” (and I think it is wonderfully constructed)

 

There is one further “legal” matter which it is convenient to mention in this section of this judgment. At times during the hearing, when longer term risks or advantages were being mentioned or considered, Mr Power referred, understandably but somewhat dismissively, to “speculation”. Advocates, and also judges, often do dismiss points as speculative or speculation. However, in relation to adoption, the Adoption and Children Act 2002 very clearly does require courts (and adoption agencies) to speculate. It requires, as the overarching duty, that the paramount consideration must be the child’s welfare throughout his life. This child is still less than two. He is healthy, and his normal life expectancy may be around a further 80 years. It is probable (but speculative) that he and his half sister, F, and his cousin, G, will outlive all the adults in this case by many years. I am required by statute to take a very long term view, but I cannot gaze into a crystal ball. I can only speculate. More specifically, the court is required by section 1(4) (c) of the Act to have regard to “the likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person.” Whilst that paragraph requires the court to consider only the “likely” effect, any such consideration involves speculation; and (speaking generally) the further ahead one looks (and one must envisage a whole lifetime) the more speculative such consideration necessarily becomes. My decision in this case does include speculation. That is what Parliament has told me to do.

 

 

You may, as I was, be interested in how it was that this aunt was not a feature in the care proceedings. If she had been known about then, the Placement Order would not have been made and the child never placed with the prospective adopters A and B. So why wasn’t she known about?

 

 

This is the most fact-specific bit of the case, I think. (It is not THAT unusual for a birth father to be untraced during the proceedings and to appear later, it is the WHY that is significant here. Mr E here is NOT the genetic father, but he is the man who appears on the birth certificate as the father, and who was treated as the father in care proceedings)

 

The mother is a young woman of white ethnicity who is still in her very early twenties. She has had problems with both alcohol and drugs. While a teenager she had already had two children by different fathers. They are now aged about 5 and nearly 4. They were removed into care and have since been adopted together by one adoptive family. (I will refer to them later as the adopted maternal half siblings.) The mother began a relationship with Mr E. He, too, has had an unstable past and has a criminal record for a range of offences of both violence and dishonesty, and a recorded history of drug abuse. In March 2013 the mother gave birth to C. He was a normal, healthy baby, and is now a normal, healthy young child. As had already been pre-planned by Rotherham, care proceedings were immediately commenced and the baby was removed from the mother five days after his birth and placed with foster parents. Neither the mother nor Mr E engaged with the care proceedings nor, effectively, with the local authority. However, the mother and Mr E jointly registered the birth on 18 April 2013, jointly stating and signing that Mr E was the father to the best of their knowledge and belief.

 

[Keep that in mind – the mother was white]

 

 

The child’s social worker, from the end of March 2013 and still now, is Miss Claire Fogwill. She did not know or meet Mr E for some time. She did, however, see the baby. I have seen photographs taken of him shortly after his birth, including the original colour photograph which is part of the later formal application form for the placement order. Although not black, the baby is very obviously very brown and has obvious negroid features. These are not racist comments. They are relevant facts. As all concerned with the case agree, he very obviously appeared to be of mixed race. Miss Fogwill said in her oral evidence that “when [she] first saw him as a baby he seemed obviously to have a black parent or at any rate a strong black/negroid genetic strain.”

 

Miss Fogwill was finally able to meet Mr E, who was in prison, on 22 May 2013. She said that she was expecting to meet a black man and “was quite shocked” when he came into the room, since he appeared to be an entirely white man. She asked him whether he was the biological father. He said that he was. (It is, of course, entirely possible that the mother had assured Mr E that he was the father, if she had never confessed to him that she had been having sex on the side with the actual father. As I have no evidence at all from either the mother or Mr E, I simply do not know.) Miss Fogwill questioned Mr E further and, according to Miss Fogwill, he told her that the baby was very brown because he, Mr E, had a Burmese mother, and added that the baby would become paler with age. Neither Miss Fogwill nor, so far as I am aware, anyone else, took any steps to seek to verify whether in truth Mr E has a Burmese mother. I personally do not have the slightest idea. Miss Fogwill claimed that she was “not able to meet the mother again to ask her about paternity”, but in truth she made little effort to do so, and she made no enquiries of the mother’s own mother whose whereabouts were settled and known.

 

Miss Fogwill made reports to Looked After Reviews on 12 April, 13 May and 11 July 2013. Also present at, and chairing, these reviews was the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). The minutes of the first two reviews record that the child “… is a child of mixed heritage. His mother is white British … the social worker is, to date, unclear of father’s ethnicity and has asked [sic] father to clarify this …” The minutes of the review on 11 July, also chaired by the IRO, record that “… the social worker has clarified with father that he is dual heritage as his mother is Burmese … the parents wished for the child to be referred to as White British, despite his presentation not reflecting this. Father [viz Mr E] informed the social worker that he expected the child’s skin colour to change with age …” There is no hint in those minutes that the IRO queried the account of paternity or suggested that further enquiries should be made. I do not make a criticism of the IRO for she has not been involved in this hearing and has had no opportunity to state her own point of view, but I accept the point made by Mr Prest that the responsibility of Miss Fogwill appears to have been shared with others. Miss Fogwill has, however, accepted that she made a serious error in swallowing the explanation of the Burmese mother (i.e. the child’s grandmother) and not investigating paternity further, and she has apologised from the witness box to both the true paternal family and the applicants for adoption. Miss Fogwill’s formal report to the court dated 28 June 2013 in support of the application for a placement order depicts a photograph of the child as I have already described, and refers to his having black hair and brown eyes and a dark complexion. It continues that the mother is white British and Mr E is half white British and half Burmese as his mum was Burmese and father white British. “[C’s] skin is quite dark however [Mr E] states that as [C] becomes older his skin will become paler. [Mr E’s] skin is white.”

 

The present guardian, Mrs Sheila Hassall, also acted in the care and placement proceedings. In her report dated 19 July 2013 she describes Mr E as “White British Burmese” and says at paragraph 12 “[C’s] paternal grandmother is Burmese, although I understand his father [viz Mr E] views himself as white British. At present [C] has the appearance of a baby who is not white British …” As I understand it, the guardian herself never actually met either the mother or Mr E. So she merely accepted the story via the social worker. She said that she only ever saw a blurred black and white photocopy photograph of the child. She said that she visited the baby once at the home of the foster mother. However he was asleep, face downwards, with his head largely covered. She only saw one arm sticking out. The arm looked brown but she did not examine the baby further. Mrs Hassall accepted her share of responsibility. She said during her oral evidence: “I make a heartfelt apology we are in this situation. I feel desperately sorry for all those involved.”

 

I have already referred to the report to the court for the application for a placement order. I do not know whether the circuit judge saw the original with the colour photograph which, as I have described, very clearly depicts a brown child of mixed race with negroid features; or whether he saw a black and white photocopy, one version of which I have seen, which shows the child’s face as a barely distinguishable large black blob like a large blob of spilt ink. At all events, the judge appears not to have raised any question about true paternity at the, probably short, hearing when he made the care and placement orders.

 

 

If you are following this, Mr E was named as the father on the birth certificate, the mother said that he was the father, and he said he was the father. The contradictory evidence (of people’s eyes) was firstly an area that people feel uncomfortable with – that of colour, and secondly Mr E had given an explanation for it that was accepted. On that first point, just reading the paragraph, even when said by a Judge, it made me feel uncomfortable to read that ‘n’ word.

 

So a last opportunity seriously to question paternity and consider obvious avenues of further enquiry was lost. I accept, of course, that such enquiries might not necessarily have uncovered the true father, but they well might have done, for the affair between the true father and the mother was well known in the community and circle within which they lived. The mother’s own mother certainly knew the true facts, as will later appear.

 

 

Let’s also not forget that in a culture of 26 weeks, no delay, and assessments only being done if they are ‘necessary’, it might have taken some persuasion to get the DNA test of Mr E done. If it had been done, the proceedings would have been delayed, but an inordinate amount of time and pain would have been avoided.

 

How did the real father ever find out about this? Deep breath, because this is quite complicated too.

 

The father was in a long-term relationship with someone else, Miss D. When he had been sleeping with the mother, he was cheating on Miss D. There had been speculation in the community and gossip, and someone came up to Miss D and showed her a photograph of the child as a baby.

 

Soon after the child was born someone showed Miss D a photograph of the baby. She could see that the colour and the features looked like her own daughter, F, and also like the father. She told him “I really think he is your child.” He continued to deny to her that he had had sex with the mother and that, therefore, he could be the father.

 

It seems, though this is not explicit, that these suspicions continued and finally the father’s sister (the aunt in question) approached the Local Authority in March 2014   to say that she thought her brother was the true father of this child. (For timing purposes, that’s seven months after the Placement Order, and two months after the prospective adopters had made their application to adopt)

 

On 6 March 2014 the aunt first contacted the social services and said that her brother might be the father of the baby. Miss Fogwill was shocked and surprised by this news. She and a more senior colleague interviewed the father on 14 March 2014. She then immediately arranged for DNA sampling and testing of the baby and the man, and a report dated 24 March 2014 established a 99.9999 per cent probability that he is indeed the father. All parties including A and B accept that he definitely is the father and the case has since proceeded on that basis. The father is a black African who was born and brought up in that continent. He is now aged 32. His own father died when he was young. He himself travelled to England in 2001 and claimed asylum. He has lived here ever since and has indefinite leave to remain. He is the seventh of a large family of eight children. His own mother, now aged 64, now lives in the Midlands. Two brothers live in the Midlands and South Wales. A sister lives in East Anglia, and his youngest sister, the aunt, lives in the Home Counties. The brothers and sisters in England and Wales have between them eight children who are paternal first cousins of C. Some of them are of mixed race, having also a white parent. The father’s three other siblings live variously within Africa and Canada. There is, therefore, a considerable extended paternal family, mostly located within England and Wales.

 

 

But hold on a minute – this all happened within a small community, and whether the father knew or not that he was the genetic father of this baby, he must surely have known that as he had been sleeping with the mother, there was a chance that he might have been?   The Judge found that he was aware of that.

 

And did he know that the baby was in care?

 

This evidence as a whole satisfies me that, within a very few weeks of the birth at the latest, the father knew perfectly well that it was highly likely that he was the father of the baby. He could not of course be certain, since he knew also that the mother had had other sexual partners. But she told him, in effect, that the baby was half black and that he had been her only black partner. Short of DNA testing, the likelihood was obvious.

 

He took no action at all. He showed no real interest in the baby, or even much interest in seeing him, although he did ask the mother if he could do so. I do not know why not, but it was probably due, at least in part, to his continuing stance of denial to Miss D. Whatever the reason, it is a significant part of the history of this case that for almost a year the father showed no interest at all in, or commitment at all to, the child, and denied rather than asserted that he was the father. So as well as the responsibility of Rotherham, the guardian, and possibly the court, for not investigating paternity further, a very heavy responsibility for events lies upon the father. If he had shown any real interest in the baby and put himself forward in any way as the likely father, then the true facts would probably have emerged much earlier and the baby would never have been placed with A and B.

 

A separate and distinct question is when the father first learned that the baby was in care. His case is that he learned this for the first time at the beginning of March 2014. He said that he saw the mother’s mother in the town. He asked her where the child was. The mother’s mother said that he was in care and that the mother had lied to him. He then immediately spoke to and told his sister, the aunt, and at his request she immediately contacted the social services. He says that in the first weeks after the birth he had indeed asked the mother if he could see the baby and she had fobbed him off by saying that the baby was staying with her mother or sister. She also misled him into thinking that she was caring for the baby by asking him on a few occasions for money for nappies.

 

To the very end of his evidence, even when recalled and admitting what I have recorded above with regard to his knowledge of paternity, the father remained adamant that it was only around early March 2014 that he first learned that the baby was in care, and that he at once informed the social services and requested that he or his family could care for the baby.

 

 

This last point might be critical – if the father knew that he was probably the baby’s father, he could have legitimately kept quiet not to rock the boat and jeopardise his relationship with Miss D UP UNTIL he knew that the baby was in care, whereupon it was time to speak up.

 

The Court concluded that his evidence that he had not known until shortly before his sister approached Social Services should be accepted.

 

I have to decide whether I am satisfied on a balance of probability that the father knew that the baby was in care as early as about April 2013, as the local authority allege; or only in early March 2014, as he himself claims. On this issue there is force in the point Miss Ford makes on the third page of her written closing submissions dated 21.11.14, and as she elaborated orally. The father’s case is that he first learned that the baby, of whom he was likely to be the father, was in care in early March 2014. He immediately contacted the social services (initially via his sister) and has, unquestionably, strenuously sought the move of the child to live with him or his family ever since. It was only later that he learned that the child had actually been placed for adoption or that there was a current application to adopt him. So, as Miss Ford puts it, his conduct by contacting social workers in March 2014 can only be explained by his having only recently learned that the child was in care. No other event or trigger has been identified as to why, having done nothing and shown no interest for so long, he suddenly did then make the contact which he did. Miss Ford asks, rhetorically: Assuming that he had known that the child was in care from, say, mid or late April 2013, why did he suddenly do something and with such resolve in March 2014? She submits that the activity in and after March 2014, for which there is no known other explanation, is really only consistent with his having recently learned in March 2014 that the child was in care.

 

I take into account the demeanour of the father in the witness box when he was recalled. At the same time as now admitting that soon after the birth the mother herself had told him that he was the father, he maintained his account, apparently convincingly, that he only knew that the baby was in care almost a year later, and said that the social worker must have misunderstood him. I also accept the force of Miss Ford’s point as described in the previous paragraph. There was room for misunderstanding, and I am not satisfied on a balance of probability that the father knew that the baby had been taken into care earlier than early March 2014, when he took action at once.

 

 

 

So, that’s how this situation arose. The person who had been treated as the father in the care proceedings was not the real father, and the real father had not known of the care proceedings because nobody had thought to tell him. The only person who knew both key sets of facts was the mother, and she had taken no action.  [The maternal grandmother might have known, by my reading, but whether that is definitive is hard to say]

 

 

The judgment then talks about the various assessments, but the long and the short of it is, the options available were to make an adoption order to A and B, or to remove the child from A and B and to place with the paternal aunt.

 

A and B were clearly very good, capable and loving people, well capable of caring for the child. The Judge said this about them :-

 

 

Even before C was matched with them, A and B prepared themselves very thoroughly as prospective adopters. They read widely. They attended courses. They learned about the importance of attachment, stimulation and other parenting qualities. This stood them and him in good stead. I accept unreservedly the current assessment by Miss Lancaster that A and B are the “perfect” adoptive couple. She said in her oral evidence that in spite of all the challenges they are remarkable people. They are excellent adopters doing a remarkable job. If she could paint the ideal adopters they are not far from the mark. They have an excellent understanding about attachment, about which they were trained. The have a very good understanding about the impact of loss and trauma. They have great appreciation of the kind of parenting styles that work well.

 

I accept unreservedly that C is now very well attached to A and B. He feels, and is, secure with them. They provide an excellent home. They are also undoubtedly deeply attached to him. B said very movingly “He is such a happy, settled, loving little person who knows who we are … I am so proud of him. I love him so much. I will always love him. He will always be my son.” C is also a familiar and much loved member of the extended families of both A and B.

 

There is no doubt that if the true paternal family had not emerged and put themselves forward in the way that they have, an adoption order would have been made several months ago.

 

 

And the Aunt?

My own impression of the aunt was very favourable. She is much more articulate than her brother, the father. She appeared to be thoughtful and flexible, and insightful and understanding of the issues in this case. She said that she has prepared her own son, G, for the possibility that he might be joined by another, younger, boy. She talks to G about C, and G would not be surprised if C became part of their family. She said that G himself is a lovely boy, very caring and very sharing, who plays very well with other kids. She paid generous and sincere tribute to A and B although of course she has never met nor seen them. She said she was just so grateful for what they have done. It is beautiful. They have taken very good care of him.

 

 

Even the social workers who were supporting the child being adopted by A and B were not critical of the aunt, just feeling that the child ought not to be moved.

 

 

[I will quickly note that the Aunt and Miss D were represented pro bono by counsel and solicitors, which was an extremely helpful and generous thing]

 

Holman J made it plain at the outset and repeatedly, that he was not approaching the case in a narrow “nothing else will do” manner, due to the recent authorities, but in weighing everything up as to what order would best meet the child’s needs throughout their lifetime.

 

 

The legal framework as I have so far described it is agreed by all the advocates in the case, including that I must apply all the relevant parts of section 1 of the Act. In their written skeleton arguments and written final submissions, as well as in their brief oral final submissions, there has been some debate between the advocates as to whether, in applying section 1, I should adopt the approach that I should only make an adoption order if “nothing else will do”. This led to some brief examination of the judgments of the Supreme Court in Re B (a child) [2013] UKSC 33, and some later judgments of the Court of Appeal in which that court appears to have been exercised by what the Supreme Court actually meant by what they said in Re B (most recently the judgments delivered by the Court of Appeal only two weeks ago on 18 November 2014 in CM v Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council [2014] EWCA Civ 1479).

 

In my view that is a debate and territory into which I need not and should not enter. The legal and factual situations in those cases were different. In the present case, the child has already been lawfully and appropriately placed for adoption with A and B for over a year. A range of rights under Article 8 of the ECHR is engaged. There is a continuing legal relationship between the child and his paternal genetic family, with whom he has a father, grandmother, aunts, uncles and a paternal half sibling, but no current psychological relationship. He has never met any of them. (He also has several cousins but they are outside the definition of “relative” in section 144 (1) of the Act.) In this case the child unquestionably also has a private and family life and a home with A and B, and they with him, for which all three of them have the right to respect under Article 8. With so many Article 8 rights engaged and in competition, it does not seem to me to be helpful or necessary in the present case to add a gloss to section 1 of only making an adoption order if “nothing else will do”. (Indeed Mr Nicholas Power might have argued on behalf of A and B, but wisely chose not to do so, that there could now be no interference with the Article 8 rights as between A and B and C mutually except if “necessary” within the meaning of Article 8(2).) Rather, I should simply make the welfare of the child throughout his life the paramount consideration; consider and have regard to all the relevant matters listed in section 1(4) and any other relevant matters; and make an adoption order if, but only if, doing so “would be better for the child than not doing so”, as section 1(6) requires. If the balance of factors comes down against making an adoption order, then clearly I should not make one. If they are so evenly balanced that it is not possible to say that making an adoption order would be “better” for him than not doing so, then I should not do so. If, however, the balance does come down clearly in favour of making an adoption order, then, in the circumstances of this case, I should make one. I do not propose to add some additional hurdle or test of “nothing else will do”.

 

 

 

The parties had all drawn up balance sheets, and the Judge said something that I find very helpful when looking at balance sheets.

 

I have read and re-read those “balance sheets” and all the written closing submissions, and I have all the points listed there in mind. Judges frequently use the language of “balance” and “balance sheets” (and I do myself. I think lists such as the above are indeed very helpful). But the analogy with balancing scales may be misleading. When weights or objects are put on either side of a scale, their individual precise weights are known, or ascertainable. You can put four objects in one scale pan and seven in the other, and the scales will come down one way or the other due to the aggregate of the individual precise and ascertainable weights on each side. In a case such as this, however, none of the factors have precise weights. All that may be said of any individual factor is that, as a matter of judgment, it is more or less important or weighty than another. Mr Power’s list is long on the advantages of adoption and short on the disadvantages. It is not, however, the number of factors which counts but their respective importance. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 does not itself use the language of balance. It requires the court to “have regard to” all relevant matters, including those specifically referred to in section 1(4). The effect of section 1(6) is that the court must then make a judgment (applying section 1(2) and the paramountcy of welfare throughout the child’s life) whether making (in this case) an adoption order “would be better for the child than not doing so.”

 

 

 

I often read judgments from the High Court and thank my lucky stars that I am not, and never will be a Judge called upon to decide between two impossible situations. This was one of those occasions.

 

My condensing of this judgment is not, and could not be, a fair reflection of the deliberation that the Judge undertook. I would urge you to read the whole judgment to get a proper reflection of the complexities of this matter.

 

Nonetheless, you want to know the outcome, and I need to give it to you, so that debate can occur.

 

 

This case clearly requires taking both a short term and a long term view. C is currently very well placed with “perfect adopters”. They are a well trained couple with whom he is very well attached. He is of mixed race. They are both white and share with him that half of his ethnicity. A and B are “tried and tested” as has been said. His aunt and the principal members of the paternal family are black and share with him that half of his ethnicity. The aunt is a single person. She has not been “tried and tested” as a carer for C, but she has been observed as a carer of her own child, G, and thoroughly assessed as entirely suitable to care long term for C. There would be likely to be short, and possibly long term harm if he now moves from A and B to the aunt, but that is mitigated by his embedded security and attachments with A and B, and can be further mitigated by specialist training and support for the aunt, which she will gladly accept. The unquantifiable but potentially considerable advantage of a move to the aunt is the bridge to the paternal original family.

 

It is my firm judgment and view that it is positively better for C not to be adopted but to move to the aunt. In any event, I certainly do not consider that making an adoption order would be better for C than not doing so. Accordingly I must, as I do, determine not to make an adoption order and must dismiss the adoption application. Pursuant to section 24(4) of the Act, I exercise a discretion to revoke the placement order made in respect of the child on 2 August 2013.

 

The care order made on 2 August 2013 now once again has effect. Rotherham, in whose care C again now is, must engage intensively with all the relevant parties, and file and circulate within three weeks a written care plan setting out their plan for C and how they will implement, in the least damaging way, the process of his move from A and B to the aunt. It is impossible for me or any court to micro-manage that plan and process, and inconsistent with the respective roles and duties of the local authority and the court that I or the court should attempt to do so. If (as I sincerely hope will not be the case) any further resort to the court is necessary, application must be made locally to the designated family judge in Sheffield. A copy of this judgment must be given to, and read by, the Independent Reviewing Officer and all social workers having any continuing role with these families.

 

I have found this decision extremely painful, for I sincerely and deeply appreciate the intense grief it will cause to A and B and to their extended families and friends. But I have not, in the end, found it difficult; and, as I said at the outset of this judgment, it is not one which I reach narrowly or marginally. At the directions hearing in Leeds, when I had read few of the papers (and there were several key documents still to come) and before I had heard any of the oral evidence or argument, I described this as a finely balanced case. By the end, I do not think that it is. I am clear that the welfare of C throughout his life decisively requires that he is not adopted but moves to live with the aunt. It is my duty to make that welfare paramount.

 

 

 

There are a lot of very fact specific components to this case – it is unlikely that another case with exactly these issues will ever appear again. So it is not a definitive ruling for anything other than a case with these particular facts.

 

Nonetheless it is

 

 

  • The first successfully opposed adoption that I have seen since the 2002 Act came into being (and I didn’t find any reported ones going back to the 1976 Act, though I could have missed them)

And

 

  • Potentially significant – here, the assertions of mother and Mr E that Mr E was the father was accepted, and a true father emerged later. That particular set of circumstances (stripped of all of the ethnic features and clandestine affairs) is probably not that unusual. Local Authorities and Courts are somewhat dependent on a mother telling them that there is more than one putative father. Will we see successful challenges to adoption on that narrower aspect? Will we see Courts being more inclined to DNA test putative fathers even where mother is saying that there is only one putative father?

I come not to praise “nothing else will do” but to bury it

 

I think one could safely say that five Court of Appeal decisions in five weeks whose thrust is “don’t come wingeing to us about nothing else will do” counts as a hint being heavily dropped, much like my own heavy-handed hints that a Darcey Bussell calendar would hit the spot over this festive period.

 

Hints, of course, are not always taken.

 

[I know of more forthcoming decisions from the Court of Appeal, and I suspect there will be a few working their way through the system before Counsel for the appellant makes a difficult telephone call saying “we’re doomed, we need to drop this”]

 

Re T (Children ) (Rev 1) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1549.html

 

The original case had involved 6 children, the youngest two being made subject to Placement Orders, and the older four being made subject to Supervision Orders and placed with their father.

 

The mother’s appeal was largely based on a claim that the Judge had failed to properly analyse whether adoption was proportionate and that “nothing else will do” and whether a placement with her instead might have met the children’s needs.

 

Reading between the lines on this one, mother’s counsel was put through the wringer by the Court of Appeal who have a somewhat different approach to that taken earlier in the year and last autumn.

Ms O’ Leary concedes, without hesitation, that :

i) HHJ Waller is a well known and experienced family judge who gave a long, carefully considered and thorough judgment having seen and heard the parties give evidence.ii) The Social work report was ‘exemplary’ including the way in which it dealt with the question of future placement alternatives for the children in a balance sheet form. The social worker gave evidence and the judge undoubtedly had in mind the totality of her evidence.

iii) The authors of the FAST assessment report were not required by the mother to give evidence. It was conceded on behalf of the mother that the authors of that assessment would have been the people through whom to challenge the assessment generally, or to put a case that the mother could cope with two children if not with six.

iv) The judge had not been asked to consider the return of the two youngest children; the mother’s case had been unclear, but at trial she had been seeking the return of at least three of the children (including J and O).

v) The judge not only expressed his understanding that adoption is an order of “last resort” [48] but expressed on a human level, that “it is with great reluctance and after careful consideration” [265], that he reached the decision to grant the care and placement orders.

 

The issue of interest in this appeal, other than it being yet more bolstering of an argument that appeals based solely on “nothing else will do” are not going to be cutting much mustard anymore, is that the judgment at first instance did not contain a single section in which all of the analysis and proportionality assessment was self-contained, but the Court of Appeal ruled definitively that if this material was threaded through the judgment as a whole, that was sufficient.

 

  1. The judge recognising that the care plan of the local authority was one of adoption thereafter asked himself the right question namely whether “the permanent separation from the natural family and relatives and the severance of legal ties, is necessary or whether there is any other realistic option” [277].
  2. Whilst not corralled in one section of the judge’s judgment, the positives and negatives of both rehabilitation and of adoption are threaded through the judgment; they are no less a part of the Re BS exercise for that. The judge as he was entitled to do, answered the question he had posed and decided, on the facts and in the light of his careful welfare analysis, that the children’s future welfare could not be safeguarded with the mother and therefore other alternatives had to be considered.
  3. In this case it was accepted that given the ages of the children and the absence of any family members to care for them, adoption was the only realistic alternative to rehabilitation. Where the judge had only two options available to him his decision making process is not rendered “linear” simply by virtue of his conclusion that rehabilitation is not in the best interests of the children, so leaving adoption as the only realistic option for the children concerned. The “holistic” consideration to be applied in applications for adoption had been implicitly, if not explicitly, conducted through the careful weighing up of the benefits for and against rehabilitation and for and against adoption which are found within the body of the judgment.

 

 

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