I was very surprised to see that Mostyn J’s decision not to award an adoption order to an 18 year old when he felt that the only tangible benefit was British citizenship was appealed. I wrote about his decision here
and I had felt that he had got that absolutely spot on.
Nonetheless, the prospective adopter in that case did appeal, and the Court of Appeal judgment is here
FAS v Secretary of State for the Home Department and Bradford MBC 2015
I was even more suprised that the Court of Appeal decided that Mostyn J had been wrong in law. You will see from the initial blog and judgment that Mostyn J had decided that the only benefit of making the adoption order for this person was to confer British citizenship on them, and that this was barred as a result of the House of Lords decision in Re B (a minor : Adoption Order :nationality) 1999
“The first is that the purpose of an adoption is, as section 12 of the Act says, to give parental responsibility for a child to the adopters. The court will therefore not make an adoption order when the adopters do not intend to exercise any parental responsibility but merely wish to assist the child to acquire a right of abode. This is what Cross J. in In re A. (An infant)  1 WLR 231, 236 called an “accommodation” adoption. The second proposition is that the court will rarely make an adoption order when it would confer no benefits upon the child during its childhood but give it a right of abode for the rest of its life. In such a case there are no welfare benefits during childhood to constitute the “first consideration.” The court is in effect being asked to use adoption to confer citizenship prospectively upon an adult. This is a power which Parliament has entrusted to the Home Secretary and the courts are reluctant to trespass upon the area of his authority.”
The appeal here was on the basis that as the 1999 decision of the House of Lords predated the 2002 Adoption and Children Act, AND that the Act moved the test from ‘the welfare of the child’ to ‘the welfare of the child throughout the child’s life’ that in effect Parliament HAD given the power to the Court to take impact of British citizenship into account.
The Secretary of State was an interested party to the proceedings, because obviously if the law is going to move to say that immigration status is a relevant consideration in making an adoption order that opens some doors that the Secretary of State might prefer remained closed.
Nonetheless, the Court of Appeal held that Mostyn J was wrong in law and that those doors ARE open
- I should explain why I consider that the judge has erred in his interpretation of section 1(2) of the 2002 Act. In my view, the natural meaning of the language used in section 1(2) requires regard to be had to the welfare interests of the child in question as they may be affected “throughout his life” – that is to say, not merely as they may be affected during his childhood, as was the test under section 6 of the 1976 Act. As a matter of language, there is no limitation as regards the nature of the child’s welfare interests which should be brought into account in this way, and none can be spelled out of the context. Given that it is readily possible to envisage things that might be done in relation to a child which may profoundly affect him for good or ill in the part of his life once he ceases to be a child (e.g. whether and how he is educated), it would be arbitrary to try to read down section 1(2) to limit its effect to purely emotional matters in the way that the judge sought to do. The wide ambit of the matters which may be relevant to assessing what promotes the child’s welfare contemplated by section 1(4), as indicated by its opening words (“… among others …”), also supports an interpretation which gives the words in section 1(2) their natural meaning.
- I do not think that section 1(4)(c) supports the judge’s narrow interpretation of the phrase “throughout his life” in section 1(2). If anything, it seems to me to point in the other direction. The phrase obviously bears its natural linguistic meaning in section 1(4)(c), meaning that the factor identified has to be brought into account by reference to the effects over the entirety of the child’s life. It would be very odd to give the same phrase a different, more restricted meaning when it is used in section 1(2). There is nothing in section 1(2) to suggest that the phrase only applies in relation to some (or only one), rather than all of the factors which might be found to be relevant to the welfare of a child.
- In my view, the reasoning of Lord Hoffmann in his speech in Re B (with which the other members of the appellate committee agreed) supports an interpretation of section 1(2) of the 2002 Act in accordance with the natural meaning of the words used in that provision. The case concerned an application by grandparents under section 6 of the 1976 Act to adopt their grandchild, T, who had only two years of minority remaining, to allow her to acquire British citizenship and avoid deportation, so that she could continue living with them in the UK and continue to attend school here: see p. 140B-D. The judge at first instance made an adoption order, even though the Home Office argued that this would be contrary to immigration policy, on the basis that he could not ignore these welfare benefits to T merely because they were dependent on the acquisition of a right of abode as a citizen: p. 140F-H. The order was set aside by the Court of Appeal on the grounds that in applying section 6 the court should ignore benefits which would result solely from a change in immigration status: pp. 140H-141C. The House of Lords held that this was contrary to the express terms of section 6 and restored the order made at first instance.
- Lord Hoffmann held that on the language used in section 6 the court could not ignore the considerable benefits which would have accrued to T during the remainder of her childhood:
“Section 6 requires the judge to have regard to ‘all the circumstances’ and to treat the welfare of the child ‘throughout his childhood’ as the first consideration. I do not see how, consistently with this language, the court could simply have ignored the considerable benefits which would have accrued to T during the remainder of her childhood. That the order would enable her to enjoy these benefits was a fact which the court had to take into account. No doubt the views of the Home Office on immigration policy were also a circumstance which the court was entitled to take into account, although it is not easy to see what weight they could be given. Parliament has not provided, as I suppose it might have done, that the adoption of a non–British child should require the consent of the Home Secretary. On the contrary, it has provided that the making of an adoption order automatically takes the child out of the reach of the Home Secretary’s powers of immigration control. The decision whether to make such an order is entirely one for the judge in accordance with the provisions of s 6 . In cases in which it appears to the judge that adoption would confer real benefits upon the child during its childhood, it is very unlikely that general considerations of ‘maintaining an effective and consistent immigration policy’ could justify the refusal of an order. The two kinds of consideration are hardly commensurable so as to be capable of being weighed in the balance against each other” (p. 141C-F)
- The effect of this reasoning is that, in respect of the period in which the child’s interests were to be treated as a first consideration (i.e. “throughout his childhood”, according to the terms of section 6), the interests of the child (including material welfare benefits he would derive as a result of being granted British citizenship) would almost invariably have to be given priority as against the state’s interest in maintaining effective immigration controls. Lord Hoffmann contrasted the position in relation to benefits which would accrue after childhood (i.e. after the period in respect of which the child’s interests were to be treated as a first consideration according to section 6) at p. 142D-F, as follows:
“I think it is wrong to exclude from consideration any circumstances which would follow from the adoption, whether they are matters which will occur during childhood or afterwards. This, as I have said, would be contrary to the terms of s. 6. Such benefits may include a right of abode or a possibility of succession. But benefits which will accrue only after the end of childhood are not welfare benefits during childhood to which first consideration must be given. And if a right of abode will be of benefit only when the child becomes an adult, that benefit will ordinarily have to give way to the public policy of not usurping the Home Secretary’s discretion. It is perhaps a curious feature of this case that if the Home Office had been willing to allow Ms B to remain in this country for the 2 years during which a residence order was in force, the case for an adoption, conferring a right of abode for life, would have been very much weaker. It would not have given Ms B any benefits during her childhood which she would not have been able to enjoy anyway.”
- As Lord Hoffmann said at p. 141H-142A, the approach to be adopted under section 6 where the benefits from conferral of citizenship would accrue after the childhood of the adopted person has ended was as follows:
“… the court will rarely make an adoption order when it would confer no benefits upon the child during its childhood but give it a right of abode for the rest of its life. In such a case there are no welfare benefits during childhood to constitute the ‘first consideration’. The court is in effect being asked to use adoption to confer citizenship prospectively upon an adult. This is a power which Parliament has entrusted to the Home Secretary and the courts are reluctant to trespass upon the area of his authority.”
- Thus, in relation to benefits for the child which would only accrue in the period after that in which the child’s interests were to be treated as a first consideration, as a matter of interpretation of section 6 there was far greater scope for the state’s interest in maintaining effective immigration controls to be treated as outweighing those matters, and it would ordinarily do so.
- Lord Hoffmann’s reasoning in relation to both periods (i.e. benefits accruing during childhood, on the one hand, and benefits accruing after childhood, on the other) was tied to the language and structure of section 6, which gave paramountcy to the child’s interests in the first period but not in relation to the second. In relation to both periods, on the proper construction of section 6 in accordance with the ordinary meaning of the language used in it, Lord Hoffmann treated the practical benefits which would accrue from becoming a British citizen by operation of the 1981 Act as relevant matters to be brought into account in deciding whether to make an adoption order.
- On the present appeal Mr Greatorex, for the Secretary of State, submits that the change between section 6 of the 1976 Act and section 1(2) of the 2002 Act cannot be taken to indicate an intention on the part of Parliament to change the presumption in favour of giving greater weight to the state’s interest in maintaining immigration controls with respect to benefits accruing after childhood which had been identified in Re B in relation to section 6. I cannot accept this submission.
- Parliament has made a deliberate change in section 1(2) in specifying the period in relation to which the impacts (both positive and negative) of adoption for a child should be brought into account for the purpose of determining what is for the welfare of the child as being “throughout his life”, by contrast with the more limited period specified in section 6 of the 1976 Act (“throughout his childhood”). Apart from this change, the basic structure of section 1(2) remains the same as for section 6, namely that in relation to assessment by reference to the relevant period the child’s interests are treated as paramount or a first consideration and that all practical benefits and disbenefits for the child (including those which would accrue as a result of any automatic conferral of citizenship under section 1(5) of the 1981 Act) are treated as relevant matters. Like section 6 of the 1976 Act, section 1(2) of the 2002 Act cannot be construed as containing any artificial limitation on what types of benefit are capable of counting as a relevant matter when considering whether an adoption order should be made. Therefore, in my view, the points made by Lord Hoffmann in Re B by reference to the then relevant period under section 6 for bringing benefits into account (during childhood) at p. 141C-F, set out above, apply with similar effect in relation to the new relevant period under section 1(2) (throughout the child’s life).
- The result of this is that if, after taking account of the practical benefits of adoption for a child throughout his life, it can be seen that it best promotes the child’s welfare that he be adopted by a British citizen so as automatically to acquire British citizenship under section 1(5) of the 1981 Act, the court should ordinarily make the adoption order which is sought. Just as for the first of the periods considered by Lord Hoffmann in the context of applying section 6 of the 1976 Act in Re B, the state’s interest in maintaining effective immigration controls will have very little significance. It will not be appropriate for a court to refuse to make the order as some sort of indirect means of reinforcing immigration controls.
- I can readily see that the Secretary of State for the Home Department might be concerned at this result. But if she wishes the courts to have the ability to give greater weight to considerations of immigration policy in the context of deciding whether an adoption order should be made, she will need to persuade Parliament to change section 1 of the 2002 Act to allow that to happen.
So, having decided that the legal basis for Mostyn J to refuse to make the adoption order was wrong in law, the Court of Appeal surely then make the adoption order? Well, no, because it turns out that as an 18 year old, simply making the adoption order would NOT confer British citizenship on the young man. And as that was the only tangible benefit identified by Mostyn J, there would be no benefit in making the order, and one can’t make such an order without being satisfied that it is better than making no order.
29…the judge erred in making the assumption he did that if he made an adoption order the effect of section 1(5) of the 1981 Act would be that MW would automatically acquire British citizenship. When the matter was before the judge, MW was already aged 18 and hence was no longer a “minor” as defined for the purposes of the 1981 Act. Therefore, if an adoption order had been made it would not have had the effect of automatically conferring British citizenship on MW. Once this is appreciated, the only benefit in terms of the welfare of MW associated with adoption identified by the judge drops out of the picture. There is no good reason to warrant the making of an adoption order in this case, and it is on this basis – different from the reasoning of the judge – that the appeal must be dismissed.
- Mr Rudd, for FAS, sought to argue that even though MW would not automatically become a British citizen if an adoption order were made, nonetheless it would greatly assist him in making an application for leave to remain in reliance on his rights to respect for his private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998 if the court had recognised his family connection with FAS by making the adoption order, and that this should be treated as a factor indicating that the making of such an order would promote his welfare. If MW obtained discretionary leave to remain, and such leave were sustained over some years, he might become a British citizen by that route.
- In my judgment this argument is unsustainable. Such family and private life as MW has established in the UK by living with FAS was formed at a time when it was known that he had only a very limited right to remain in the UK as a visitor for a few weeks, and hence was precarious. Any adoption order would be made after MW became an unlawful over-stayer and was known to be such. On the ordinary principles applicable under Article 8, in a case affected by precariousness of this kind it is only in exceptional circumstances that a right to remain could be established on the basis of private or family life (see e.g. R (Agyarko) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 440 at ), and there are none here. MW has no prospect of being granted leave to remain on the basis of Article 8 in exercise of the Secretary of State’s discretionary immigration powers, so this factor cannot justify the making of an adoption order in relation to MW.
The Court of Appeal thus achieving the unusual outcome of sending every single person in the Court room away being deeply unhappy about what was decided. Absolutely nobody would have been happy or even content with this.