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Adoption proceedings – member of extended family wishing to challenge

The Court of Appeal dealt with the appeal of a non-parent who was not given permission to oppose the making of an adoption order.

 

(The relationship here is a tricky one – the appellant was the mother of mum’s partner, so had no biological or familial relationship to the child, but had been caring for the child for most of the child’s life before care proceedings were issued. “Extended family” is probably as close as we are going to get in terms of an umbrella term for someone like this)

 Re G (A child) 2014

 

It throws up what the Court of Appeal describe as a “technical novelty” (which is a phrase I may pinch for my tombstone in years to come  – assuming that I don’t imitate Woody Allen’s assertion  “I intend to live forever – or die trying”)

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/432.html

 The appellant could not seek to revoke the Placement Order, since an application for adoption was already lodged.  

The appellant could not seek leave to oppose the making of the adoption order, since she was not a parent     (an application for leave is limited to “parent” under s47, and importantly “parent” is defined in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 as someone who holds parental responsibility – so a father without PR could not apply for leave to oppose the making of an adoption order)

 

She could apply for party status, or the Court could, knowing of her interest, make her a party of its own motion   FPR 2010, r 14.3(3) provides that:

“the court may at any time direct that (a) any other person or body be made a respondent to the proceedings; or (b) a party be removed.”

 

But what she really wanted was to be able to challenge the making of an order.

 Some digging and clever work by the lawyers involved reveals the answer

 

Adoption and Children Act 2002   (underlining mine)

 

S 29(3) and (4) which provide:

“(3) Where a placement order is in force—

(a) no prohibited steps order, residence order or specific issue order, and

(b) no supervision order or child assessment order,

may be made in respect of the child.

(4) Subsection (3)(a) does not apply in respect of a residence order if—

(a) an application for an adoption order has been made in respect of the child, and

(b) the residence order is applied for by a parent or guardian who has obtained the court’s leave under subsection (3) or (5) of section 47 or by any other person who has obtained the court’s leave under this subsection.

 

 

So, someone who is NOT a parent (i.e has PR) can apply for leave to make a residence order, and the Court can consider that application. Obviously the successful application for a residence order has the effect of resisting the adoption order, since the child moves from adopters to the applicant.

 

 The question then arises – what is the test for obtaining the Court’s leave under s29(4) to apply for a residence order ?

 

Unlike the statutory provisions governing an application for leave to apply to revoke a placement order (s 24) or leave to apply to oppose an adoption (s 47), s 29(4)(b) does not contain an express statutory requirement for the court to be satisfied that there has been a “change in circumstances”. Miss Meyer submits that, nevertheless, such a requirement should be read in to the statutory provision on the basis that it would seem inappropriate for a person who is neither a parent nor a guardian to face a lower requirement than the one facing a parent or guardian on the question of whether or not they are allowed back in before a court to contest either the continued existence of the placement order or any subsequent adoption application.

 

 

It proved quite problematic to resolve whether on an application under s29(4) the child’s welfare was paramount   (the Adoption and Children Act, unlike the Children Act, makes heavy weather of welfare paramountcy and this is something that the Courts have had to tackle before)

 

26It follows that a court is not required to afford paramount consideration to the welfare of the child when determining whether or not to grant leave to apply for a residence order under s 29. There is, however, no reason for departing from the approach described by Wilson LJ, as he then was, in Warwickshire CC v M at paragraph 29 when describing the second stage of an application for leave under s 24(3) once a change in circumstances has been established:

“…a discretion arises in which the welfare of the child and the prospect of success should both be weighed. My view is that the requisite analysis of the prospect of success will almost always include the requisite analysis of the welfare of the child. For, were there to be a real prospect that an applicant would persuade the court that a child’s welfare would best be served by revocation of the placement order, it would surely almost always serve the child’s welfare for the applicant to be given leave to seek to do so. Conversely, were there not to be any such real prospect, it is hard to conceive that it would serve the welfare of the child for the application for leave to be granted.”

 

 

 

 

Is there a “two-stage” test for s29(4)   (i.e change of circumstances – not welfare paramountcy, and then if that shown should the application for leave be granted balancing the welfare of the child and prospect of success)

 

27 Finally, in terms of the test to be applied, Miss Meyer’s submission that an applicant for leave under s 29(4) must establish, as a first stage, “a change in circumstances”, in like manner to the test facing those who apply under s 24 and s 47, is not accepted by Miss Henke. She submits that whether or not there has been a change in circumstances may be relevant in some cases, however, where, as here, the provision applies to “any other person” that class of individuals could include, for example, a natural father of a child who lacks parental responsibility. He, it is suggested, may emerge into the subsequent adoption proceedings late in the day, and have played no part in the “circumstances” which justified the making of the original placement order. Miss Henke therefore argues that there should be a one stage test within which the court will, naturally, look at the previous factual matrix and compare the current circumstances but without the formal structural need for a discrete first stage at which “a change in circumstances” has to be established.

28 There is, on this point, a danger of the court dancing on the head of a pin and considering a difference which, in reality, is without a distinction. In any application of this nature, where the applicant is not simply wishing to have a voice in the proceedings but is seeking leave to apply for a residence order, the underlying factual circumstances, and any change in those circumstances since the making of the original placement order, is likely to be of great relevance. Parliament has, however, held back from introducing an express statutory provision requiring the court to be satisfied about a change in circumstances where the application is for leave under s 29(4), in contrast to the approach taken in the other two provisions. I would therefore step back from holding that there is such a specific requirement where leave is sought under s 29(4). However, when considering whether to grant leave to apply under s 29(4), and when adopting the approach described by Wilson LJ in Warwickshire CC v M, I consider that any change in the underlying circumstances will be of great relevance both when the court assesses the prospects of success for the proposed residence application and when considering the welfare of the child.

 

 

So, the Court of Appeal say that a relative making an application under s29(4) for leave to make a residence order application when there’s an adoption application lodged, does not HAVE to show a change in circumstances since the making of a Placement Order (as a parent would) but whether there has would certainly be a relevant factor when considering the application.

 

That, oddly, puts the test for a father without PR wanting to challenge an adoption order as being slightly lower than for a mother or father who HAVE PR (which was Lorna Meyer QCs point earlier)

 

 

the circumstances of this appellant could have been catered for by treating her application as an application for leave to apply for a residence order under s 29(4) for the reasons I have given. If such an application were made there is no discrete requirement for the establishment of a change in circumstances, ACA 2002, s 1 does not govern the determination of the application by requiring the court to hold the child’s welfare as its paramount consideration, but the application would fall for adjudication in accordance with the approach described by Wilson LJ in Warwickshire CC v M.

 

 

Because all of this technical analysis was not available to the original judge, the Court of Appeal had to revisit the decision made not to allow the appellant to participate.

 

The Court considered that the appellant had not shown sufficient to pass the newly minted test for s29(4) applications   (note, however, what is said about a FATHER without parental responsibility, in relation to whether a person who does not have leave to make an application or leave to oppose could nonetheless be joined as a party)

 

45 Thus, when viewed from the perspective both of the prospects of success and of the child’s welfare, AR’s application for permission to apply for a residence order under ACA 2002, s 29(4) must fail.

46 In contrast to the position of a father who lacks parental responsibility, and who wishes simply to be heard as a party to a final adoption application with respect to his child, AR, as a non-relative who was, however, the primary carer for G during the first 18 months of his life, does not in my view have a sufficient interest to be joined as a respondent to the adoption application in the absence of any ability to make a substantive application in the proceedings.

47 In all the circumstances, when applying the statutory scheme to AR’s position as it is now clear the judge should have done, the outcome of the balancing exercise in respect of both s 29(4) and joinder as a party is inevitable; both applications must fail. As a result, there is no ground for overturning the outcome as determined by HHJ Edwards. I would therefore dismiss the appeal.

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

3 responses

  1. Ashamed to be British

    Gosh … as far as I’m aware anyone who has an interest in the child can step up, blood related or otherwise, are Godparents now redundant?

  2. Pingback: Adoption proceedings – member of extended family wishing to … | Child Adoption Process

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