This time, Re D (A child) 2014
This case was heard in the High Court, by Moylan J
- This case provides a clear example of the difficulties created as a result of surrogacy arrangements being subject to varying degrees of domestic regulation, from significant regulation to none at all, and also because of the existence of significant differences in the effect of such domestic regulation. There is, in my view, a compelling need for a uniform system of regulation to be created by an international instrument in order to make available an appropriate structure in respect of what can only be described as the surrogacy market.
- These proceedings concern a young boy called D who was born in 2010. He was born in the Republic of Georgia as a result of a commercial surrogacy arrangement, using eggs from a donor and the First Respondent’s sperm, which took place at and through a clinic in Georgia.
The particular wrinkle in this case was whether the surrogate mother was married at the time of this arrangement. Because if he was, under English law, he would be the child’s legal father, leaving the ‘commissioning father’ the genetic father, but having no legal rights about the child.
- By virtue of section 35 of the HFEA 2008 the answer to the question, “Who is the legal father?”, depends on whether the surrogate mother was married at the relevant time. Section 35(1) provides:
“If – (a) at the time of the placing in her of the embryo or of the sperm and eggs or of her artificial insemination, W was a party to a marriage, and;
(b) the creation of the embryo carried by her was not brought about with the sperm of the other party to the marriage,
then, subject to section 38(2) to (4), the other party to the marriage is to be treated as the father of the child unless it is shown that he did not consent to the placing in her of the embryo or the sperm and eggs or to her artificial insemination (as the case may be).”
Section 35(2) provides:
“This section applies whether W was in the United Kingdom or elsewhere at the time mentioned in subsection (1)(a).”
- Section 48 of the HFEA 2008 provides that where, by virtue of the provisions of the Act, a person is to be treated as the mother, father or parent of a child,
“that person is to be treated in law as the mother, father or parent (as the case may be) of the child for all purposes”.
Section 48(2) provides the converse, namely that where, by virtue of the HFEA 2008, a person is not to be treated as a parent of the child,
“that person is to be treated in law as not being a parent of the child for any purpose”.
The surrogacy and insemination was managed through a clinic, whose director is named MK in this judgment. MK sadly gave two rather different accounts of the surrogate mother’s matrimonial status
- When the mother and MK went to the British Embassy in Georgia on 5th January 2011 MK informed the consular official that:
“The surrogate mother is divorced and was divorced before she entered into the surrogacy arrangement. There are a further five surrogate mothers waiting to deliver their babies in February/March all destined for the UK.”
On 30th December 2011 MK sent an e-mail to the mother’s solicitors in which she said:
“As for surrogate mother, yes, she is and was legally married. She is married also now. We have holidays here until January 3rd and then I will send official letter to public registry and obtain the proof that the surrogate mother is and was legally married, also request copy of her marriage certificate.”
[On version 1 the ‘commissioning man’ who provided the gametes was the genetic father and legal father, on version 2 he was only the genetic father. You absolutely don’t want any doubt about this issue, but the doubts just got worse]
In an e-mail dated 5th January 2012 MK said:
“Also one more important issue. Surrogate signed a contract with us claiming she was single. This was declared to the UK Embassy but very recently we became aware that the surrogate was married. I went to the UK Embassy with the mother to declare the surrogacy but I do not think this is problematic because some of our UK citizen surrogate mothers were married but UK law regulates this and none of our former potential parents has any problem because of this. You can check same in UK Embassy.”
On 20th February 2012 MK said that they had been unable to find the surrogate mother.
“Was either divorced or single. We do not match married surrogates to UK couple but we cannot provide any proof as we do not have any further link with her and only she can obtain proof of her marital status from public registry.”
The fact that only the surrogate mother could obtain proof of her marital status from the public registry was subsequently confirmed by the detective agency. In another e-mail of the same date, 15th October 2012, MK said:
“Paperwork was completed and D was granted papers to go to UK. At the time the surrogate mother has declared that she was single. We were later to be informed she had, indeed, been married.”
And then a bit later:
“I had a declaration (just my team member reminder) that surrogate mother was single when she signed and was given to the Embassy.”
In answer to the question as to whether she had any more information, MK said nothing more.
[I think that this Judge was very kind in not naming the agency or MK. Well, kind to them. Not so much to people who are wanting to enter into a surrogacy arrangement and might want to avoid complications, doubts and costly litigation down the line…]
- Turning now to my determination, the evidence in this case, on the issue of whether the surrogate mother was married at the relevant time, is clearly not satisfactory. The only person able to give direct evidence is MK and she has refused to provide a statement. She has said, at different times, that the surrogate mother was single, married and divorced. I do not consider that any greater weight can be given to MK’s e-mail of 30th December 2011 than her other statements, which were either also provided to the mother’s solicitors or to the consular official at the British Embassy. These were, as I would describe them, equally official statements.
- The mother’s evidence is inevitably unclear, based, as it is, on what she was told by MK or the impression she gained from MK.
- In my view, the evidence does not establish that the surrogate mother was married at the relevant time. The evidence is not sufficient to enable me to come to that conclusion on the balance of probabilities. Indeed, in my view there is considerable doubt as to whether the clinic provided accurate details as to the identity of the surrogate mother. It is notable that the clinic has failed to provide its contract with the surrogate mother, although this may be explained by being unwilling to reveal the terms of that contract.
- I propose, very briefly, to outline the orders agreed by the parties. In their position statements the parties were seeking different solutions. Those being addressed were adoption, special guardianship and shared residence. The mother sought either an adoption order or a special guardianship order. The father, in an extremely balanced statement, sought a shared residence order. The Local Authority supported the making of a special guardianship order. The guardian did not support the making of either an adoption order or a special guardianship order, having regard in particular to the effect those orders would have on the parties’ respective positions as parents. The guardian’s recommendation was that both parties should have parental responsibility and that there should be a shared residence order.
- The parties, through sensible discussions, have agreed on a structure which follows that made by King J in the case of JP v LP & Ors  EWHC 595 (Fam), including that D should remain a ward of court and that there should be a shared residence order. As I said at the beginning of this judgment, I am entirely satisfied that the proposed orders are in D’s best interests and, accordingly, at the request of the parties, I make such orders.