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The leave to oppose Tsunami

 

As anticipated,  since Re B-S showed practitioners that the historically high (perhaps even insurmountable) test for leave to oppose adoption applications had been too high, and too heavily weighted in relation to the factor of potential disruption to the child in placement, the appeals have started to come in. I understand that Ryder LJ has already spoken of a “tsunami” of appeals which are heading towards the Court of Appeal.

Here are two :-

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1481.html

Re L (Leave to oppose making of adoption order) 2013

The Placement Order had been made in Feb 2012 and the child placed with adopters in March 2012 (so we are getting on for a year and a half in placement). As the Court of Appeal observe, an unusual feature of the case is that the adopters had separated in the course of that placement – somewhat peculiarly they were jointly pursuing the adoption application though had not decided between themselves who the child was to live with. Early on in the court proceedings the prospective adoptive mother dropped out, leaving Mr X as the prospective adoptive father to carry on with the adoption application as a sole carer.

 

The Court of Appeal considered that the trial judge had not properly weighed the ultimate prospects of M succeeding in her application given the backdrop of uncertainty and change in the prospective adopters situation.

 

    1. When a judge considers a parent’s prospects of success for the purposes of section 47(5), he is doing the best he can to forecast what decision the judge hearing the adoption application is going to make, having the child’s welfare throughout his life as his paramount consideration. What is ultimately going to be relevant to the decision whether to grant the adoption order or not must therefore also be material at the leave stage.

 

    1. The judge deciding the adoption application would need to approach the hearing bearing in mind what McFarlane LJ said in Re G (supra) about the dangers of a linear approach to decision making in child care cases. He would have to make “a global, holistic evaluation of each of the options available for the child’s future upbringing” (Re G §50) before determining what would serve the child’s welfare throughout his life. In the present case, the strengths and the weaknesses of M’s situation would have to be considered in isolation, as would the strengths and weaknesses of Mr X’s situation, and, as McFarlane LJ said in §54 of Re G, each option would have to be “compared, side by side, against the competing option”. This exercise would have to be carried out remembering that adoption is only to be imposed where that is necessary, as the Supreme Court underlined in Re B [2013] UKSC 33.

 

    1. An option that might appear not to be in a child’s interests in one context might, by this process of global, holistic evaluation, carry the day in another context. Here, M’s case that she would be able to care for S, or alternatively that there should at least be a further assessment of her ability to do so, would not fall for consideration, as is usually the case, alongside a settled and stable adoptive placement which had been going on for some time. The competing option would involve an adoptive household which has been subjected to protracted disruption and uncertainty which is yet to be completely resolved. First, there was the separation of the adopters, then the change from a joint adoption to an adoption by Mr X on his own, with Mrs X withdrawing from S’s life completely. Mr X’s new relationship and the anticipated baby changed things again and there still remains the outstanding dispute over where Y will live. Even once that is resolved, it will no doubt take some time for the X family as a whole to learn to live with the consequences of these extensive changes. That there is uncertainty in both options, not just in M’s situation, may turn out to be a very important feature in determining what will serve S’s welfare throughout his life.

 

    1. It seems to me that where the judge went wrong was in failing to consider whether the uncertainty in the adoptive household might improve M’s prospects of success and to make allowance for that. Putting it another way, what I think was missing was a consideration of M’s present position in the context of the disruption and uncertainty in the X household.

 

    1. Although he went as far as contemplating that the adoptive placement with Mr X would not ultimately succeed, the judge dealt with that possibility by making the assumption that, in those circumstances, S would be moved by the local authority to carers whose parenting abilities were at least good enough and probably better than good enough (§56) and that, although there may be delay whilst they were identified, S would be cared for meanwhile “either by approved foster carers or by potential adopters known to have adequate parenting skills” (§59). Even if not entirely apposite to the legal situation arising here, one question that might at least have generated the right sort of consideration is whether, in the event that Mr X’s adoption application were not ultimately to succeed, as the judge contemplated was possible, it may in fact be appropriate to pursue further the possibility of a placement with M rather than S being placed forthwith by the local authority with an alternative adoptive family as the judge assumed would happen.

 

  1. I do not think the judge can be criticised for being cautious about a return to M on the evidence as it stood. He said that it would be “experimental” and did not think it likely to succeed (§57). However, he appears to have been looking for quite a high degree of present certainty in this regard, speaking for instance of M being unable currently to “satisfy” the court of her abilities (§58). The degree to which a court needs to be confident about a parent’s abilities at the section 47(5) stage is likely to vary, in my view, depending on the other circumstances of the case and I say a little more about this in the final paragraph of this judgment. Where the other option under consideration also has significant uncertainties, a lesser degree of confidence may sometimes justify the granting of leave and it seems to me that that was so here. In such circumstances, it may also be that greater allowance might be appropriate for the fact that there has not been an opportunity for the evidence to be tested (both that in favour of M and that which may undermine her case).

 

NOTE that this case didn’t get sent back by the Court of Appeal for re-hearing (i.e the judgment needed work) but the Court of Appeal instead granted the leave, and the contested adoption hearing will therefore take place. (That’s a step farther than Re W – though that case clearly laid the foundations for the Court of Appeal making such a decision). The Court also emphasise that although the impact on the placement isn’t as heavy a consideration for the second stage (the welfare decision) as previously considered, the stability and duration of the placement could be weighed in the balance when determining the solidity of the mother’s application (an otherwise solid application could flounder on that particular dimension)

    1. Nothing that I have said in this judgment should be taken as any indication of a view of the ultimate strengths and weaknesses of Mr X’s application or (apart from the preliminary determination necessary for section 47) of M’s case. The evidence is not yet complete either in relation to Mr X’s circumstances or M’s, and none of it has yet been tested.

 

  1. I would like to add a final few words of more general application than just this case. I am very conscious of the difficulties inherent in applications under section 47(5). The relationships and hopes of not just one family but two are imperilled and the material upon which the decision has to be taken is, of necessity, often far from complete and not infrequently has not been tested in a hearing with oral evidence. I have not intended in this judgment to be prescriptive as to the way in which such applications are handled by the expert family judges who resolve them with skill and sensitivity. Each case depends upon its own facts and the circumstances of individual cases vary infinitely. Where, for instance, a child has been placed with adopters for a protracted period, is well settled, and remembers nothing else, a court may well take the view that there has to be a degree of confidence about the parent’s ability to provide a suitable home for the child before it can even contemplate assessing the parent’s prospects as solid. And the cases show that the overall circumstances of the case may be such that the court may decide not to grant leave even where there is some confidence in the parent. Re B-S was an example of a mother who had achieved “an astonishing change of circumstances” (Re B-S, §3) but did not get leave to oppose adoption because of the situation of the children (ibid, §102). Re C (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 431 was a case of a father who could have provided for the child’s physical needs but failed to get leave where the child (who was by then 4 ½ years old) had been settled with the adopters for over 2 years and had no relationship at all with him. At the other end of the spectrum, there will be cases in which the evident deficiencies in the parent’s case are such that, notwithstanding the existence of uncertainty or other issues in relation to the adoptive placement, the parent’s case is not solid enough to justify the grant of leave to oppose.

 

[It is interesting of course that two years of placement was considered this year, by the President no less in Re C, to be quite a clear cut-off point beyond which the Court would not possibly tamper with the placement, and six months later an 18 month old placement seems to count for very little : “ C has now been settled for over two years with the adopters. How can we, how could any judge, take the risk of disturbing that?“: )

The next one, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal – so one looks for clues and guidance within it

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1480.html

Re D (Leave to oppose making of an adoption order) 2013

The child had not lived with mother since May 2011, and Placement Order was made on 18th May 2012, placement with adopters Sept 2012  (note, six months LATER than in the appeal above that was granted)

The original court was satisfied that there had been a change of circumstances on mother’s part, thus satisfying the first limb of the two stage test, but decided that the circumstances did not justify reopening the case. Fairly naturally, in the light of the jurisprudence in the latter part of this year, the mother appealed.  In fact, she got silked-up (which suggests that public funding MIGHT have been obtained for her, would be interested to know that)

The appeal was effectively on the Re B-S, Re G and Re W grounds, that the Court had not properly weighed the mother’s prospects of success (which don’t have to be for return, they can be in persuading the Court to NOT make the adoption order), that the positive aspects of an alternative to adoption and the negative aspects of adoption had not been properly weighed.

    1. Although Judge Caddick in the present case did not use the word “solidity” in connection with his assessment of M’s prospects of successfully opposing the adoption, that was clearly what he was looking for, finding it lacking as we can see from his statement that it would be “highly improbable” that the court would say the position was sufficiently different to enable M successfully to oppose the adoption application.

 

    1. Was he wrong to assess M’s chances in this way and/or did he fail to demonstrate in his reasoning how he arrived at this conclusion, as Ms Connolly said?

 

    1. In answering this question, it is important to read the judgment as a whole. As the court observed in Re B-S (see §74(ii)), the question of whether there has been a change in circumstances and whether the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave are almost invariably intertwined and so they were here. The position that the judge reached, as he said expressly in §18, was that there had been a change in circumstances but that there were also features of the period following the making of the placement order which weighed against the progress that M had made, three in particular being identified in §§18 to 26 of the judgment. The judge’s concern about these was that the offence in June 2012 and the incident in February 2013 in particular indicated remaining immaturity on the part of M; in my judgment he was entitled to take that view, even allowing for the difficult circumstances in June 2012. HHe He rightly put these events into the context of M’s previous immaturity and, although he could perhaps have reasoned this stage in his decision making more fully, we can see, I think, from §38 that, quite independently of the question of how L would be affected by delay and/or the disruption of her placement, he concluded that the overall picture was such that M was unlikely to be able to establish that her position was different enough to persuade a court that it was in L’s interests to be placed with her. He had the particular advantage of having heard M’s oral evidence in which the events since the placement order were explored and it seems to me that he was entitled to arrive at this assessment, which deprived the M’s prospects of the necessary solidity.

 

    1. It was entirely appropriate that the judge should consider L’s circumstances and those of the adopters. Re B-S underlines that what is paramount in adoption decisions is the welfare of the child throughout his or her life and that it is important for judges not to attach undue weight to the short term consequences to the child of giving leave. It does not, however, say that even short term consequences for the child are completely irrelevant and they certainly are not. Similarly, Re B-S recognises that in some cases the adverse impact on the prospective adopters, and thus on the child, is something which may have considerable force (§74(ix)) although equally it is important that undue weight should not be given to the argument for the reasons set out in that paragraph.

 

    1. I do not accept the argument that the judge omitted to consider, or to give proper weight to, the benefits to L of being brought up by her own mother. That vitally important factor is recognised in §37 of the judgment, albeit in quite short form and without express reference to the provisions of section 1 of the Act. It was also stressed in the passage which, in directing himself on the law, the judge cited from Re P, which concludes with a statement that the paramount consideration of the court must be the child’s welfare throughout his or her life. As I see it, the core of the judge’s decision was that he just did not consider that the changes in M (for which he properly recognised she should be commended) were going to be sufficient to enable a court to conclude that she could bring up L at the present time.

 

  1. I have not been persuaded by the arguments so cogently advanced on M’s behalf that the judge erred in his approach to this case or failed to set out his reasoning for his decision sufficiently. I would accordingly dismiss the appeal.

 

As seems to be happening a lot in the latter part of this year, the decision then turns on the precise detail of the judgment, rather than principles which can be extracted. In Re B-S, the Court of Appeal felt that the judgment was robust enough, in Re W, they didn’t. In Re L they felt the judgment was wrong, in Re D, they didn’t.  {Comparing these two cases, in one the change was qualified by later blips  – Re D, the other wasn’t – Re L, and in one the placement was stable and secure – Re D, and in the other it was rather more uncertain Re L – so even without the judgments, one gets some sort of flavour of the task faced by mother}

I am beginning to wonder whether the publication, in anonymised form, of the original judgment ought to be considered with such appeals. Where the appeal turns on the quality and wording of the judgment, and Judges up and down the country need to know what “passes” and what “fails” it might be helpful to see them in full.

 

 

No wonder you’re late – why this watch is exactly two days slow

Yet more quest for perfection from the President. Mark this well.

 

Re W (A Child) 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1177.html

 

There are two big principles in this Court of Appeal case, in which the President gives the lead judgment.  The first is about compliance with Court orders. The President is not happy.

 

    1. In his judgment in Re H, Judge Barclay drew attention to the fact that although he had made an order on 8 April 2013 requiring the local authority to file and serve on the parents short position statements regarding each child and any objections to leave to oppose being granted, not less than five working days before the hearing, no such position statement had been filed. Unsurprisingly the parents complained that they had no way of knowing what the local authority’s position was, save that there was a blanket objection to leave being granted. Ms Pitts went away to draft a position statement and the parents and their “experienced” representatives (Judge Barclay’s word) were then given time – three quarters of an hour or so – to consider what the local authority was saying. Ms Pitts tells us that further time was not sought. Judge Barclay, as he tells us in his judgment, considered that they had had “sufficient” time.

 

    1. That the parents and their representatives should have been put in this position is quite deplorable. It is, unhappily, symptomatic of a deeply rooted culture in the family courts which, however long established, will no longer be tolerated. It is something of which I complained almost thirteen years ago: see Re S (Ex Parte Orders) [2001] 1 FLR 308. Perhaps what I say as President will carry more weight than what I said when the junior puisne.

 

    1. I refer to the slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious attitude which still far too frequently characterises the response to orders made by family courts. There is simply no excuse for this. Orders, including interlocutory orders, must be obeyed and complied with to the letter and on time. Too often they are not. They are not preferences, requests or mere indications; they are orders: see Re W (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1227, para 74.

 

    1. The law is clear. As Romer LJ said in Hadkinson v Hadkinson [1952] P 285, 288, in a passage endorsed by the Privy Council in Isaacs v Robertson [1985] AC 97, 101:

 

“It is the plain and unqualified obligation of every person against, or in respect of whom, an order is made by a court of competent jurisdiction, to obey it unless and until that order is discharged. The uncompromising nature of this obligation is shown by the fact that it extends even to cases where the person affected by an order believes it to be irregular or even void.”

For present purposes that principle applies as much to orders by way of interlocutory case management directions as to any other species of order. The court is entitled to expect – and from now on family courts will demand – strict compliance with all such orders. Non-compliance with orders should be expected to have and will usually have a consequence.

    1. Let me spell it out. An order that something is to be done by 4 pm on Friday, is an order to do that thing by 4 pm on Friday, not by 4.21 pm on Friday let alone by 3.01 pm the following Monday or sometime later the following week. A person who finds himself unable to comply timeously with his obligations under an order should apply for an extension of time before the time for compliance has expired. It is simply not acceptable to put forward as an explanation for non-compliance with an order the burden of other work. If the time allowed for compliance with an order turns out to be inadequate the remedy is either to apply to the court for an extension of time or to pass the task to someone else who has available the time in which to do it.

 

  1. Non-compliance with an order, any order, by anyone is bad enough. It is a particularly serious matter if the defaulter is a public body such as a local authority. And it is also a particularly serious matter if the order goes to something as vitally important as Judge Barclay’s order did in this case: the right of a parent facing the permanent loss of their child to know what case is being mounted against them by a public authority.

 

Yes, you read that right – if the order says the document should be filed by 4pm, the party should APPLY FOR AN EXTENSION OF TIME before that deadline if it is going to be in at 4.21pm.

Does anyone’s experience of Courts suggest that such an application will be dealt with in time?

 

Anyway, next, and more important point.

This is the first case post Re B-S of an application for leave to oppose an adoption order. You will recall that in Re B-S, the Court of Appeal felt that the test had become too high, perhaps even insurmountable for parents and a recalibration was necessary.  On the facts of Re B-S, the Judge had got it right (or at least not got it wrong) and the refusal was upheld.  In this one, it wasn’t.

    1. The judgment must make clear that the judge has the two stage process in mind. There are two questions (Re B-S, para 73): Has there been a change in circumstances? If the answer to the first question is no, that is the end of the matter. If the answer is yes, then the second question is, should leave to oppose be given?

 

    1. In addressing the second question, the judge must first consider and evaluate the parent’s ultimate prospects of success if given leave to oppose. The key issue here (Re B-S, para 59) is whether the parent’s prospects of success are more than just fanciful, whether they have solidity. If the answer to that question is no, that will be the end of the matter. It would not merely be a waste of time and resources to allow a contested application in such circumstances; it would also give false hope to the parents and cause undue anxiety and concern to the prospective adopted parents. The reader of the judgment must be able to see that the judge has grappled with this issue and must be able to understand, at least in essentials, what the judge’s view is and why the judge has come to his conclusion. The mere fact that the judge does not use the words “solid” or “solidity” will not, without more, mean that an appeal is likely to succeed, for example, if the judge uses language, whatever it may be, which shows that the parent fails to meet the test. So if a judge, as Parker J did in Re B-S, adopts McFarlane J’s words (see Re B-S, para 58) and describes the prospect of parental success as being “entirely improbable” that will suffice, as indeed it did in Re B-S itself, always assuming that the judge’s conclusion is adequately explained in the judgment.

 

    1. In evaluating the parent’s ultimate prospects of success if given leave to oppose, the judge has to remember that the child’s welfare is paramount and must consider the child’s welfare throughout his life. In evaluating what the child’s welfare demands the judge will bear in mind what has happened in the past, the current state of affairs and what will or may happen in future. There will be cases, perhaps many cases, where, despite the change in circumstances, the demands of the child’s welfare are such as to lead the judge to the conclusion that the parent’s prospects of success lack solidity. Re B-S is a clear and telling example; so earlier was Re C (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 431.

 

    1. If the parent is able to demonstrate solid prospects of success, the focus of the second stage of the process narrows very significantly. The court must ask whether the welfare of the child will be so adversely affected by an opposed, in contrast to an unopposed, application that leave to oppose should be refused. This is unlikely to be the situation in most cases given that the court has, ex hypothesi, already concluded that the child’s welfare might ultimately best be served by refusing to make an order for adoption. To repeat what I said in Re B-S (para 74(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”.”

    1. It is surely a very strong thing to say to the child – and this, truth be told, is what is being said if the parent’s application for leave to oppose is dismissed at this final stage of the process – that, despite your parent having a solid prospect of preventing you being adopted, you (the child) are nonetheless to be denied that possibility because we think that it is in your interests to prevent your parent even being allowed to try and make good that case.

 

    1. I emphasise in this connection the important points I made in Re B-S (paras 74(viii), (ix)): that judges must be careful not to attach undue weight either to the short term consequences for the child if leave to oppose is given or to the argument that leave to oppose should be refused because of the adverse impact on the prospective adopters, and thus on the child, of their having to pursue a contested adoption application.

 

  1. There is one final important matter that has to be borne in mind. The judge hearing a parent’s application under section 47(5) for leave to oppose is concerned only with the first and second of the three stages identified by Thorpe LJ in Re W (Adoption: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535, [2011] 1 FLR 2153, para 18 (see Re B-S, paras 55-56). The third stage arises at the final adoption hearing and only if the parent has been given leave to oppose. As Thorpe LJ described it, the parent’s task at that stage is “to persuade the court at the opposed hearing to refuse the adoption order and to reverse the direction in which the child’s life has travelled since the inception of the original public law care proceedings.” That issue is relevant at the prior stage, when the court is considering whether or not to give leave to oppose under section 47(5), only insofar as it illuminates the nature of the ultimate issue in relation to which the parent has to be able to demonstrate the solid prospects of success necessary to justify the giving of leave.

 

The Court of Appeal then grapple with two issues – on such an appeal, should they grant Leave to oppose themselves, or just send it back for re-hearing. And secondly, given the timing of leave to oppose applications and that adoption orders could easily be made before the appeal takes place, what should happen to the adoption order?

The first relates to the form of order. Having set aside the judge’s order refusing leave to oppose, should this court go on to give leave itself, or should that question be remitted for determination by the judge? If the proper outcome is clear on the papers, then it may be appropriate for this court to decide the issue. But if the matter is not clear then it must be remitted to the judge.

There is no doubt that the appellants have locus – status – to appeal against the adoption orders even though they were not parties to the proceedings at the time the orders were made: Re C, para 43. Recognising that the law sets a very high bar against any challenge to an adoption order if lawfully and properly made, the circumstances with which we are here faced demand as a necessary consequence of the appeals being allowed that the adoption orders be set aside. The point is short and simple. In each case the adoption order has been made on an application which, despite the protests of the parent, has proceeded unopposed and in circumstances where the necessary pre-requisite to that – the order dismissing the parent’s application for leave to oppose the making of the adoption order – has been invalidated by the subsequent order of this court. The consequence, to adopt the words used by Butler-Sloss LJ in Re K (Adoption and Wardship) [1997] 2 FLR 221, 228, is that there has been “no proper hearing of the adoption application” and, moreover, in circumstances where, if the adoption order stands, there will be “fundamental injustice” not merely to the parent but also, we emphasise, to the child. It is a necessary corollary of the appeal against the judge’s refusal to give leave to oppose the making of the adoption order being successful that the adoption order which followed must be set aside.

 

So  if a leave to oppose is refused and then appealed successfully, the adoption order itself must be set aside. That has major consequences for the timing of an adoption final hearing or order if there has been a leave to oppose application, and for adopters generally.  The making of the adoption order is not going to be the final say necessarily (they may have to wait not only for an appeal to be lodged, but for it to be determined, AND the prospects of a leave to oppose application are much harder to call, and it is probably more likely that many will be allowed, to avoid the nightmare scenario of an adoption order being made and later set aside.

This case is going to be very important for adopters, and the training and preparation they are given about the legal process, which is as a result likely to become more uncertain and stressful.  (There are of course, the advantages to parents and family life of such a decision, affording the parents opportunity to change after the care proceedings and to tackle their problems and put themselves in a position where they have an argument that ought to be heard)

“This is some serious B-S….”

 

The Court of Appeal decision in Re BS (Children) 2013  is out

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/1146.html

This case involved an appeal against a decision to refuse leave for a parent to oppose an adoption application, a Placement Order having already been made. Prior to Re B, this would have been an appeal unlikely to have been given permission, let alone succeed. The law on the test for leave to oppose an adoption application is well-established, and is plainly a very high test for the parent to satisfy. (Some might possibly argue that the existing case law sets a test that is nigh on insurmountable)

The Court of Appeal however, set out the wider context of an appeal dealing with adoption post Re B, and the general mood music of the higher courts in recent days that not sufficient attention is being given to what a serious and grave order a Placement Order or adoption order is.

 

Adoption – the wider context

·  Lurking behind the present case, and indeed a number of other recent cases before appellate courts which we refer to below, one can sense serious concerns and misgivings about how courts are approaching cases of what for convenience we call ‘non-consensual’ as contrasted with ‘consensual adoption'; that is, cases where a placement order or adoption order is made without parental consent. Most frequently, parental consent is dispensed with in accordance with section 52(1)(b), on the footing that the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with. But we must not forget the not inconsiderable number of cases where parental consent is dispensed with because the parent lacks capacity.

·  We – all of us – share these concerns.

 

The Court of Appeal go on to set out the law as refreshed and refined by Re B, that adoption is the last resort and that it can only be the plan where “nothing else will do”

But this is new , though using Lady Hale’s judgment in Re B as a beginning:-

 

29 It is the obligation of the local authority to make the order which the court has determined is proportionate work. The local authority cannot press for a more drastic form of order, least of all press for adoption, because it is unable or unwilling to support a less interventionist form of order. Judges must be alert to the point and must be rigorous in exploring and probing local authority thinking in cases where there is any reason to suspect that resource issues may be affecting the local authority’s thinking.

 

Hmmm. That seems sensible on the face of it, but of course a Local Authority could manage any risk at all whilst keeping the family together, if they kept the family together in a residential assessment centre permanently, or they had the family living at home with 18 hours a day visiting from professionals. So clearly there has to come a point in which resources play a part. It would not be reasonable for a Local Authority to spend millions on one family, probably not reasonable for them to spend half a million on one family, just to keep them together. The crunch therefore comes at where what a parent and Court consider to be reasonable allocation of resources to keep a family together clashes with what the Local Authority consider reasonable.

It seems not quite right to me to suggest that the LA cannot run such an argument – of course, the Court must have the ability to reject it and tell the Local Authority that their plan is refused, to make a less interventionist order and that the LA then have to make the best of it. But this formulation rather suggests that the Court can dictate the plan of support in the community.

I am struggling to fathom why a Local Authority should not press for adoption where they are unable or unwilling to support another form of order – surely that is the exact situation in which they would. The Local Authority can’t seek a Placement Order UNLESS they are satisfied that nothing else will do.  

In layman’s terms, what this really means is that if the Court is faced with a plan that allows the family to be together, the LA cannot oppose that plan on the basis that the resources required to make the plan work would be unreasonable.  That is a major development.

It seems to me that this would hold up for reasonable resource expenditure, but particularly in times of austerity, I suspect that Local Authorities won’t be quietly taking the “blank cheque” approach hinted at here. I also suspect that Barry comes into play in any later challenge.

Moving on, the Court of Appeal gave guidance about the evidential requirements for the Court to make a Placement Order and endorse a plan of adoption. It is fair to say that the Court of Appeal hint that Courts have become too lax, and too reliant on stock phrases and formulas

Adoption – essentials: (i) proper evidence

·  First, there must be proper evidence both from the local authority and from the guardian. The evidence must address all the options which are realistically possible and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option. As Ryder LJ said in Re R (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1018, para 20, what is required is:

“evidence of the lack of alternative options for the children and an analysis of the evidence that is accepted by the court sufficient to drive it to the conclusion that nothing short of adoption is appropriate for the children.”

The same judge indicated in Re S, K v The London Borough of Brent [2013] EWCA Civ 926, para 21, that what is needed is:

“An assessment of the benefits and detriments of each option for placement and in particular the nature and extent of the risk of harm involved in each of the options”.

McFarlane LJ made the same point in Re G (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 965, para 48, when he identified:

“the need to take into account the negatives, as well as the positives, of any plan to place a child away from her natural family”.

We agree with all of this.

·  Too often this essential material is lacking. As Black LJ said in Re V (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 913, para 88:

“I have searched without success in the papers for any written analysis by local authority witnesses or the guardian of the arguments for and against adoption and long term fostering … It is not the first time that I have remarked on an absence of such material from the evidence, see Plymouth CC v G (children) [2010] EWCA Civ 1271. Care should always be taken to address this question specifically in the evidence/ reports and that this was not done here will not have assisted the judge in his determination of the issue.”

In the Plymouth case she had said this (para 47):

“In some respects the reports of the guardian and the social worker, and the social worker’s statement, are very detailed, giving information about health and likes and dislikes, wishes and feelings. However there is surprisingly little detail about the central issue of the type of placement that will best meet the children’s needs … In part, this may be an unfortunate by-product of the entirely proper use, by both witnesses, of the checklist of factors and, in the case of the social worker’s placement report, of the required pro forma. However, the court requires not only a list of the factors that are relevant to the central decision but also a narrative account of how they fit together, including an analysis of the pros and cons of the various orders that might realistically be under consideration given the circumstances of the children, and a fully reasoned recommendation.”

·  Black LJ has not altered the views that she expressed on these earlier occasions and the other members of the court agree with every word of them. We draw attention in particular to the need for “analysis of the pros and cons” and a “fully reasoned recommendation”. These are essential if the exacting test set out in Re B and the requirements of Articles 6 and 8 of the Convention are to be met. We suggest that such an analysis is likely to be facilitated by the use – which we encourage – of the kind of ‘balance sheet’ first recommended by Thorpe LJ, albeit in a very different context, in Re A (Male Sterilisation) [2000] 1 FLR 549, 560.

·  It is particularly disheartening that Black LJ’s words three years ago in the Plymouth case seem to have had so little effect.

 

 

The Court of Appeal go on to address specificially a type of formulation in social work or guardian evidence as to why adoption is required and reject it as being wholly insufficient. Raise your hand if you’ve never seen the case for adoption set out in this type of way

 

23 The allocated social worker in her written statement recommended that [S] needed:

“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 …”

24 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.

25 The independent social worker did not support adoption or removal but did describe the options which were before the court when the mediation opportunity was allowed:

“Special Guardianship Order: This is the application before the Court and which would afford [S] stability, in terms of remaining with the same primary carer and the opportunity to be raised within her birth family. I do not consider that the situation within the family is suitable at present for this Order to be made.

Adoption: [S] could be placed with a family where she should experience stability and security without conflict. This may be the best option for [S] if current concerns cannot be resolved in a timely manner.”

26 In order to choose between the options the judge needed evidence which was not provided. The judge’s conclusion was a choice of one option over another that was neither reasoned nor evidenced within the proceedings. That vitiated her evaluative judgment which was accordingly wrong.”

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

·  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 don’t disagree with any of this – we do need to move away from simply dealing with the enormity of adoption by the stock phrase “It is a draconian order, however”  and actually dealing with the rigorous arguments for and against, for the particular children in question.  That is going to require substantially more detailed social work and Guardian statements (at exactly the time when the push is towards slimmer and shorter statements)

Next topic – not just the LA making their case better, but judges producing much better judgments.

Adoption – essentials: (ii) adequately reasoned judgments

·  The second thing that is essential, and again we emphasise that word, is an adequately reasoned judgment by the judge. We have already referred to Ryder LJ’s criticism of the judge in Re S, K v The London Borough of Brent [2013] EWCA Civ 926. That was on 29 July 2013. The very next day, in Re P (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 963, appeals against the making of care and placement orders likewise succeeded because, as Black LJ put it (para 107):

“the judge … failed to carry out a proper balancing exercise in order to determine whether it was necessary to make a care order with a care plan of adoption and then a placement order or, if she did carry out that analysis, it is not apparent from her judgments. Putting it another way, she did not carry out a proportionality analysis.”

She added (para 124): “there is little acknowledgment in the judge’s judgments of the fact that adoption is a last resort and little consideration of what it was that justified it in this case.”

·  The judge must grapple with the factors at play in the particular case and, to use Black LJ’s phrase (para 126), give “proper focussed attention to the specifics”.

·  In relation to the nature of the judicial task we draw attention to what McFarlane LJ said in Re G (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 965, paras 49-50:

“In most child care cases a choice will fall to be made between two or more options. The judicial exercise should not be a linear process whereby each option, other than the most draconian, is looked at in isolation and then rejected because of internal deficits that may be identified, with the result that, at the end of the line, the only option left standing is the most draconian and that is therefore chosen without any particular consideration of whether there are internal deficits within that option.

The linear approach … is not apt where the judicial task is to undertake a global, holistic evaluation of each of the options available for the child’s future upbringing before deciding which of those options best meets the duty to afford paramount consideration to the child’s welfare.”

We need not quote the next paragraph in McFarlane LJ’s judgment, which explains in graphic and compelling terms the potential danger of adopting a linear approach.

·  We emphasise the words “global, holistic evaluation”. This point is crucial. The judicial task is to evaluate all the options, undertaking a global, holistic and (see Re G para 51) multi-faceted evaluation of the child’s welfare which takes into account all the negatives and the positives, all the pros and cons, of each option. To quote McFarlane LJ again (para 54):

“What is required is a balancing exercise in which each option is evaluated to the degree of detail necessary to analyse and weigh its own internal positives and negatives and each option is then compared, side by side, against the competing option or options.”

·  McFarlane LJ added this important observation (para 53) which we respectfully endorse:

“a process which acknowledges that long-term public care, and in particular adoption contrary to the will of a parent, is ‘the most draconian option’, yet does not engage with the very detail of that option which renders it ‘draconian’ cannot be a full or effective process of evaluation. Since the phrase was first coined some years ago, judges now routinely make reference to the ‘draconian’ nature of permanent separation of parent and child and they frequently do so in the context of reference to ‘proportionality’. Such descriptions are, of course, appropriate and correct, but there is a danger that these phrases may inadvertently become little more than formulaic judicial window-dressing if they are not backed up with a substantive consideration of what lies behind them and the impact of that on the individual child’s welfare in the particular case before the court. If there was any doubt about the importance of avoiding that danger, such doubt has been firmly swept away by the very clear emphasis in Re B on the duty of the court actively to evaluate proportionality in every case.”

·  We make no apologies for having canvassed these matters in such detail and at such length. They are of crucial importance in what are amongst the most significant and difficult cases that family judges ever have to decide. Too often they are given scant attention or afforded little more than lip service. And they are important in setting the context against which we have to determine the specific question we have to decide in relation to Re W (Adoption: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535, [2011] 1 FLR 2153.

I again, don’t disagree with any of this. I do wonder whether in reality this means that Placement Orders can’t be determined by the Family Proceedings Court – whilst they could make the right decisions, that level of intensity and rigour and analysis in a judgment seems very arduous for a Bench.

At this point, the Court of Appeal clearly recognised that their direction of travel might be perceived as oppositional to the revised Public Law Outline, and are at pains to point out why it isn’t.  (Many people, myself included, considered the revised PLO to be largely about a rush to adoption)

 

Adoption – the current reforms to the family justice system

·  First, however, we need to see how all this fits in with the current reforms to the family justice system and, in particular, with the revised Public Law Outline.

·  Our emphasis on the need for proper analysis, argument, assessment and reasoning accords entirely with a central part of the reforms. In his ‘View from the President’s Chambers’ the President has repeatedly stressed the need for local authority evidence to be more focused than hitherto on assessment and analysis rather than on history and narrative, and likewise for expert reports to be more focused on analysis and opinion: see ‘The process of reform: the revised PLO and the local authority’, [2013] Fam Law 680, and ‘The process of reform: expert evidence’, [2103] Fam Law 816. What the court needs is expert opinion, whether from the social worker or the guardian, which is evidence-based and focused on the factors in play in the particular case, which analyses all the possible options, and which provides clear conclusions and recommendations adequately reasoned through and based on the evidence.

·  We do not envisage that proper compliance with what we are demanding, which may well impose a more onerous burden on practitioners and judges, will conflict with the requirement, soon to be imposed by statute, that care cases are to be concluded within a maximum of 26 weeks. Critical to the success of the reforms is robust judicial case management from the outset of every care case. Case management judges must be astute to ensure that the directions they give are apt to the task and also to ensure that their directions are complied with. Never is this more important than in cases where the local authority’s plan envisages adoption. If, despite all, the court does not have the kind of evidence we have identified, and is therefore not properly equipped to decide these issues, then an adjournment must be directed, even if this takes the case over 26 weeks. Where the proposal before the court is for non-consensual adoption, the issues are too grave, the stakes for all are too high, for the outcome to be determined by rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable and justice thereby potentially denied.

 

My quick view on this – we might finish cases in 26 weeks, but they will be coming back for another round after LA plans rejected and a trial at home hasn’t worked (I hope I am wrong)

With all of that in mind, it isn’t entirely surprising  that the Court of Appeal looked at the Warwickshire and Re P tests for leave to oppose adoption, and wrote a slightly  new one reinforcing a rather different emphasis

Section 47(5) of the 2002 Act – the proper approach

·  Subject only to one point which does not affect the substance, the law, in our judgment, was correctly set out by Wall LJ in Re P, though we fear it may on occasions have been applied too narrowly and indeed too harshly. The only qualification is that the exercise at the second stage is more appropriately described as one of judicial evaluation rather than as one involving mere discretion.

·  There is a two stage process. The court has to ask itself two questions: Has there been a change in circumstances? If so, should leave to oppose be given? In relation to the first question we think it unnecessary and undesirable to add anything to what Wall LJ said.

·  In relation to the second question – If there has been a change in circumstances, should leave to oppose be given? – the court will, of course, need to consider all the circumstances. The court will in particular have to consider two inter-related questions: one, the parent’s ultimate prospect of success if given leave to oppose; the other, the impact on the child if the parent is, or is not, given leave to oppose, always remembering, of course, that at this stage the child’s welfare is paramount. In relation to the evaluation, the weighing and balancing, of these factors we make the following points:

i) Prospect of success here relates to the prospect of resisting the making of an adoption order, not, we emphasise, the prospect of ultimately having the child restored to the parent’s care.

ii) For purposes of exposition and analysis we treat as two separate issues the questions of whether there has been a change in circumstances and whether the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave. Almost invariably, however, they will be intertwined; in many cases the one may very well follow from the other.

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.

iv) At this, as at all other stages in the adoption process, the judicial evaluation of the child’s welfare must take into account all the negatives and the positives, all the pros and cons, of each of the two options, that is, either giving or refusing the parent leave to oppose. Here again, as elsewhere, the use of Thorpe LJ’s ‘balance sheet’ is to be encouraged.

v) This close focus on the circumstances requires that the court has proper evidence. But this does not mean that judges will always need to hear oral evidence and cross-examination before coming to a conclusion. Sometimes, though we suspect not very often, the judge will be assisted by oral evidence. Typically, however, an application for leave under section 47(5) can fairly and should appropriately be dealt with on the basis of written evidence and submissions: see Re P paras 53-54.

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.

vii) The mere fact that the child has been placed with prospective adopters cannot be determinative, nor can the mere passage of time. On the other hand, the older the child and the longer the child has been placed the greater the adverse impacts of disturbing the arrangements are likely to be.

viii) The judge must always bear in mind that what is paramount in every adoption case is the welfare of the child “throughout his life”. Given modern expectation of life, this means that, with a young child, one is looking far ahead into a very distant future – upwards of eighty or even ninety years. Against this perspective, judges must be careful not to attach undue weight to the short term consequences for the child if leave to oppose is given. In this as in other contexts, judges should be guided by what Sir Thomas Bingham MR said in Re O (Contact: Imposition of Conditions) [1995] 2 FLR 124, 129, that “the court should take a medium-term and long-term view of the child’s development and not accord excessive weight to what appear likely to be short-term or transient problems.” That was said in the context of contact but it has a much wider resonance: Re G (Education: Religious Upbringing) [2012] EWCA Civ 1233, [2013] 1 FLR 677, para 26.

ix) Almost invariably the judge will be pressed with the argument that leave to oppose should be refused, amongst other reasons, because of the adverse impact on the prospective adopters, and thus on the child, of their having to pursue a contested adoption application. We do not seek to trivialise an argument which may in some cases have considerable force, particularly perhaps in a case where the child is old enough to have some awareness of what is going on. But judges must be careful not to attach undue weight to the argument. After all, what from the perspective of the proposed adopters was the smoothness of the process which they no doubt anticipated when issuing their application with the assurance of a placement order, will already have been disturbed by the unwelcome making of the application for leave to oppose. And the disruptive effects of an order giving a parent leave to oppose can be minimised by firm judicial case management before the hearing of the application for leave. If appropriate directions are given, in particular in relation to the expert and other evidence to be adduced on behalf of the parent, as soon as the application for leave is issued and before the question of leave has been determined, it ought to be possible to direct either that the application for leave is to be listed with the substantive adoption application to follow immediately, whether or not leave is given, or, if that is not feasible, to direct that the substantive application is to be listed, whether or not leave has been given, very shortly after the leave hearing.

x) We urge judges always to bear in mind the wise and humane words of Wall LJ in Re P, para 32. We have already quoted them but they bear repetition: “the test should not be set too high, because … parents … should not be discouraged either from bettering themselves or from seeking to prevent the adoption of their child by the imposition of a test which is unachievable.”

I suspect one would see more successful leave to oppose applications. What that will mean for adoptive parents is yet to be seen – also what it means for the Legal Aid Agency who historically don’t fund these applications is yet to betested.

The Court of Appeal go on to set out that the test for the appellant court was whether the Judge was “wrong” rather than plainly wrong, but actually dismiss the appeal itself.

 

Avoiding catastrophes

 The peculiar, and desperately sad, case of Re C (A Child) 2013. 

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/431.html

This is a Court of Appeal decision which has hit some of the national press. It is the one where a father learns three years after the event that he has fathered a child, and worst still, learns that the child has been made the subject of a Care and Placement Order and placed with adopters.

 He sought to oppose the adoption order, and this was refused. What happened then, was that a Judge heard the application for adoption and made the order (knowing that there was a desire to appeal the decision refusing leave to oppose the adoption order, but it being uncertain as to when that would be).

  1. C, as I shall refer to him, was born on 13 August 2007. The appellant was in fact, though he did not know it at the time, his father. C’s mother was unable to care for him. On 16 August 2007, just three days after he was born, the local authority obtained an interim care order in relation to C from the Family Proceedings Court in accordance with section 38 of the Children Act 1989. The next day, 17 August 2007, C was placed with a foster carer with whom he remained until 28 October 2010. On 1 May 2008 the Family Proceedings Court made a final care order in accordance with section 31 of the 1989 Act, followed on 8 August 2008 by a placement order in accordance with section 21 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. On 19 October 2010 C was matched with adopters. On 28 October 2010 he was moved to an interim placement while introductions began with the adopters. On 8 November 2010 he was placed with the adopters. He has been with them ever since. On 20 April 2011 the adopters applied to the Principal Registry for an adoption order under section 46 of the 2002 Act.
  1. Thus far, everything had proceeded as might have been expected. At this point I need to go back to the beginning.
  1. The appellant had had a brief sexual relationship with C’s mother in late 2006 at a time when she was living with another man, R. The appellant learned that the mother was pregnant. He asked her if he was the father. She denied it and said she thought R was. The care proceedings were brought and continued on that basis. In 2009 the appellant resumed his relationship with the mother. According to him, it continued until about May 2011. A son, M, was born to them in September 2010. Towards the end of 2010, according to the appellant, his sister saw photographs of C and wondered whether he might be the father; the mother apparently laughed and said she was sure he was not. He says that to him she always said that R was the father, though he admits he began to have doubts.
  1. In about May 2011 the appellant became aware of the adoption proceedings. On 6 June 2011, and again on 20 June 2011, his sister approached the local authority. She was told that they should seek independent legal advice. The first directions hearing followed on 15 August 2011; the order made on that occasion recorded the local authority’s agreement to carry out a DNA paternity test.
  1. On 3 October 2011 a DNA test report from Cellmark indicated that the appellant was C’s father. On 18 October 2011 the results of the DNA test were communicated by the local authority to his solicitors and by them to the appellant. The very next day, 19 October 2011, he filed an application at the Principal Registry under Part 19 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 seeking “permission to defend/oppose the adoption order” and permission to be joined as a party. The application was made pursuant to section 47(5) of the 2002 Act. It is to be noted that in response to the question “Does your application include any issues under the Human Rights Act 1998?” the answer given was “No”. Directions were given by District Judge Malik on 20 October 2011, 7 November 2011 and 20 December 2011. On the last occasion he had a position statement from C’s mother which set out her position very clearly: “I do not want my child … to be adopted by strangers … I wish to ask the court to place him with his natural father or allow his sister to adopt him”.

The Court made it plain that the Local Authority in the care proceedings, having been assured by mother throughout that the child’s father was a man “R” and that the true father had never come into the equation, were entitled to proceed on that basis and not have to try to investigate the true paternity. By the time the father came forward, the child had already been in the potential adoptive placement for two years and the application was lodged.

The Court of Appeal considered the case and concluded that the initial decision to refuse leave to oppose was correct, and certainly not plainly wrong.

  1. Before Judge Redgrave, the appellant had to clear two fences. First, he had to establish (as he did) the necessary change of circumstances referred to in section 47(7) of the 2002 Act; second, he then had to satisfy the court that, in the exercise of discretion, it would be right to grant permission: Re W (Adoption Order: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535, [2011] 1 FLR 2153, para [18]. In relation to the second, the question fell to be decided by the application of section 1 of the 2002 Act to the facts of the case, so the paramount consideration for the court was C’s welfare throughout his life: Re P (Adoption: Leave Provisions) [2007] EWCA Civ 616, [2007] 1 WLR 2556, [2007] 2 FLR 1069, paras [27], [55].
  1. At this stage a “stringent approach” was required: Re W, para [28], approving the approach adopted by McFarlane J, as he then was, in X and Y v A Local Authority (Adoption: Procedure) [2009] EWHC 47 (Fam), [2009] 2 FLR 984, para [15]. In Re W Thorpe LJ expressed it in this way (para [20]):

“I am in no doubt at all that where a judge exercises a broad discretion as to whether or not permission should be granted at the second stage under s 47(5), the judge must have great regard to the impact of the grant of permission on the child within the context of the adoptive family. Of course, each case will depend upon its particular facts. The present case may be said to be a strong case in the sense that the mother had had no sight of J since the summer of 2007. J had been placed for over a year. J had been told of and had reacted to the making of the adoption order in the spring. To put all these seemingly solid steps into melting question would inevitably have a profoundly upsetting effect on the adopters and the child. So such a consequence should surely not be contemplated unless the applicant for permission demonstrates prospects of success that are not just fanciful and not just measurable. In my opinion, they should have substance. Perhaps, to borrow from the language of Lord Collins of Mapesbury in another sphere, they should have solidity.”

That is, of course, a reference to what Lord Collins said in Agbaje v Agbaje [2010] UKSC 13, [2010] 1 AC 628, para [33].

  1. Ms Fottrell, for whose admirable submissions I am indebted, as is the appellant, distilled her submissions into seven propositions:

i) That Judge Redgrave failed to have due regard to the factors listed in section 1(4), and in particular section 1(4)(c) of the 2002 Act (“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”).

ii) That she failed to have due regard to section 1(4)(f) (“the relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency continues the relationship to be relevant …”).

iii) That she failed to have due regard to the real possibility that C could be placed with relatives and that, considering the known strengths of the appellant and his sister as carers, the merits of his application should have been considered at a full hearing.

iv) That she was disproportionately influenced by the possibility of disruption to the placement, which was not the only consideration when assessing the welfare of the child, and was wrong to conclude and rely on the assertion that a further move would place C at risk of suffering further harm.

v) That she was wrong to conclude that it was implausible that the appellant did not suspect that he was the father of C, having not heard evidence from him.

vi) That she was wrong to conclude that his immigration status was in any way relevant to her analysis.

vii) That, having concluded that she could not assess the ability of the appellant to care for C but that she could not conclude he had no prospect of succeeding (there was a recent assessment of him as a co-carer for M and he was actively caring for a child at the time), she was wrong to conclude that he should not be granted leave to oppose the adoption.

  1. Ms Fottrell identifies the central question for us as being whether Judge Redgrave’s approach was too stringent. She submits that the judge’s approach was to assume that C’s welfare would be adversely affected by a purposeful delay and that too great weight was placed on the fact that C was in the adoptive placement at the time of the application. She supplements this with the additional submissions that Judge Redgrave erred in not considering whether the appellant’s application had ‘solidity’ and in giving insufficient weight to the merits of the appellant’s application to oppose, its prospect of success and the likely benefit to C of being placed with his biological family.
  1. Ms Fottrell also pointed out that, in distinction to both X and Y and Re W, the merits of the appellant’s case had never been considered by any court in the course of either the care or the placement proceedings.
  1. Ms Fottrell relied upon the protection afforded the appellant by Article 8, both in relation to his “private life” and also in relation to his “intended” or “potential” “family life” as expounded in Anayo v Germany (Application No 20578/07) [2011] 1 FLR 1883, paras [60]-[62], Schneider v Germany (Application No 17080/07) (2011) 54 EHRR 407, paras [82]-[84], and, most recently, Kautzor v Germany (Application No 23338/09) [2012] 2 FLR 396, para [75].
  1. Mr Perkins on behalf of both the local authority and the adopters submitted that Judge Redgrave was invested with a discretion that she properly exercised, having regard to the section 1 criteria, in a way that sits comfortably with the current domestic and Strasbourg jurisprudence. Further, he said, even if, which he did not accept, she had included additional matters in her consideration (ie, the appellant’s immigration situation) which she perhaps should not have, her overall assessment and decision was not so plainly wrong as to enable us to interfere.
  1. For the purposes of the appeal, Mr Perkins was willing to assume that the appellant in combination with his sister could provide for C’s physical needs, and to a good standard. But, he submitted, sadly for them the combination of all the circumstances in this case falls well short of Thorpe LJ’s “solidity” test. What he called “the unchallengeable obstacles” are a combination of:

i) the fact that the appellant and his sister are strangers to C, now aged 4; not wishing to be unkind, the sad reality is that they have no relationship whatsoever with him;

ii) the fact that for the first three years of his life C was in foster care, so effectively he has had no experience of natural parental care;

iii) the fact that he has spent the last two years with his adoptive parents and has become settled and attached, no doubt secured by those around him in their expectation that this was to be his permanent home;

iv) the fact that, as the judiciary has already noted positively on a number of occasions, his adoptive placement more than adequately meets his needs, particularly for a placement within a culturally appropriate home; and

v) the risk that setting in train the process now being proposed by the appellant could seriously undermine C’s stability and strike hard against his best interests.

  1. Despite everything that Ms Fottrell has so attractively argued on his behalf, and recognising the bitter heartache this must cause for a father who, it would seem, was cruelly deceived by the mother of his child, I was by the end of the argument on the point entirely satisfied that the appeal against Judge Redgrave’s order had to be dismissed. Standing back from all the detail, the reality is that the appellant has no relationship with C, indeed has never even seen him, and that C has now been settled for over two years with the adopters. How can we, how could any judge, take the risk of disturbing that?
  1. In my judgment, Judge Redgrave’s decision as set out by her in a very clear and lucid judgment displays no error of law, no error of approach, whether viewed from a purely domestic perspective or, as one must, from the broader Strasbourg perspective. Nor can it be said that her exercise of discretion was flawed or that it was plainly wrong. In my judgment it was neither. Judge Redgrave addressed the relevant factors and gave them what she thought was the appropriate weight. That was a matter for her, and we cannot interfere unless she was plainly wrong, either in her evaluation of the weight to be attached to them, whether individually or collectively, or in her overall conclusion. She was not. Despite Ms Fottrell’s submissions to the contrary, I do not accept that Judge Redgrave failed to have due regard to, or, as the case may be, was unduly influenced by, the various factors to which Ms Fottrell has drawn our attention

They were not terribly happy that the second Judge, following that refusal of leave to oppose, and knowing that an appeal was being contemplated, went on to make the adoption order.  IF the father had won his appeal against refusal of leave to oppose, that decision to make the adoption order could have made matters very difficult indeed, as overturning an adoption order once made is not straightforward.

  1. The dismissal of the appeal against Judge Redgrave’s order renders academic the proposed appeal against Judge Altman’s subsequent order. I cannot pass it by in silence, however, not least because of the very serious implications if the appeal from Judge Redgrave’s order had in fact been allowed.
  1. It is quite clear that the appellant has locus – status – to appeal against the order made by Judge Altman even though he was not a party to the proceedings at the time it was made: Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (By Their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, para [141]. The real question is whether his proposed appeal would have been successful.
  1. The law sets a very high bar against any challenge to an adoption order. An adoption order once lawfully and properly made can be set aside “only in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances”: Webster para [149]. In that case, the adoption orders “were made in good faith on the evidence then available” (para [177]) and therefore stood, even though the natural parents had suffered a “serious injustice” (para [148]). Webster can be contrasted with Re K (Adoption and Wardship) [1997] 2 FLR 221 where an adoption order was set aside in circumstances where there had been (page 227) “inept handling by the county court of the entire adoption process” and (page 228), failure to comply with the requirements of the Adoption Rules, “procedural irregularities go[ing] far beyond the cosmetic”, “a fundamental injustice … to [the child] since the wider considerations of her welfare were not considered” and “no proper hearing of the adoption application.” Butler-Sloss LJ held (page 228) that:

“there are cases where a fundamental breach of natural justice will require a court to set an adoption order aside.”

  1. Whether the appellant would have succeeded in meeting that very stringent test is, in my judgment, open to serious question. I do not want to be understood as saying that he would not; but equally I do not want to be understood as saying that he would. It certainly should not be assumed that his appeal would have succeeded.
  1. In relation to this aspect of the matter I propose to add only this: I am bound to say that I find Judge Altman’s decision to proceed in the full knowledge that there was a pending application to this court for permission to appeal very difficult to understand, let alone to justify.

The Court of Appeal (and this is the President of the Family Division, who is even now beavering away on the revised Public Law Outline) had this to add, about the case generally

I cannot part from this case without expressing my very great concerns about what it reveals of our system. The history of the events since 7 February 2012 as I have set them out makes for depressing and profoundly worrying reading. This is not, I stress, necessarily a criticism of those involved, most of whom did what was required of them; it is a criticism of a system whose inadequacies and potential for catastrophe have here been all too starkly exposed. No humanly devised system can ever be foolproof, but we must do everything to ensure as best we can that future catastrophes are prevented.

 

Where a challenge to the making of a Placement Order, or any order consequent to that, is being contemplated, the Court of Appeal say that the following steps MUST be taken  [and adds “when I say must, I mean MUST”]

  1. 48.   i) The appellant’s notice must be filed as soon as possible.

ii) Those advising the appellant must give careful thought to including in the appellant’s notice any appropriate application for a stay or other interim relief.

iii) If a transcript of the judgment being appealed against is not then available:

a) the appellant’s notice must be accompanied by whatever note of the judgment (even if unapproved) is available; and

b) the transcript must be ordered immediately.

iv) When an application for a transcript is received, the court from which the appeal is being brought must deal with the application immediately.

v) Respondents who are parties to any application consequential upon the placement order (eg, an application for an adoption order) must immediately inform both the appellant and the Court of Appeal of:

a) the fact of the making of the application; and

b) the date(s) of any hearing of the application.

The President also indicated that steps are to be taken to deal with the particular logjam in this case, which was that the case could not be appealed until the transcript of judgment was available and that obtaining this transcript had taken many many months, thus preventing a Court of Appeal Judge looking at the appeal application at permission stage and giving directions (which might well have included that any application for adoption should be stayed until the appeal was determined).  None of that really helps, because in this case the LSC would not award funding for the appeal until THEY had seen the transcript, and understandably, counsel drafting the grounds of the appeal needed to see the transcript in order to provide the advice for the LSC that an appeal had a reasonable prospect of success.

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