RSS Feed

Tag Archives: revoking adoption order

Revoking adoption and IVF mistakes (again)

 

 

 

The President of the Family Division has been at the forefront of the litigation about IVF clinics that managed to make a mess of the paperwork such that people who fully intended to both be legal parents of a child conceived in that way have ended up not being legal parents and having to go through cost and emotional turmoil. Purely due to failures in using the correct forms. It is a trivial mistake, but one (as you can see from this piece) has huge emotional consequences and cost for those involved.

Case O (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008) [2016] EWHC 2273 (Fam) (13 September 2016)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2273.html

 

The President notes that there are approximately 90 cases of such anomalies, where due to failure with forms and paperwork parents who intended in good faith to become legal parents of the child they were conceiving with help of the clinic did not actually become the legal parent.

 

In this case, when the parents were told of the mistake, the child had not yet been born.

 

 

 

 

17.When told by the clinic of the mistake which had been made, X and Y were, to use X’s word, “devastated.” Y was at home – in fact she was far advanced in her pregnancy with C2 – when Barts telephoned:

 

 

 

“They told me that I was not [C1’s] legal parent … I rang [X], instantly, I was sobbing. I could not believe what I had been told. Fortunately [she] was very close to home. When I received that telephone call I felt like my whole world had been ripped apart. I was no longer [C1’s] mummy. This still remains very raw.”

 

X remembers Y telephoning:

 

“[She] called me, [she] was sobbing and I could barely make out what she was saying.”

 

The legal advice they got at the time (which was probably right at the time – or at least what most lawyers would have said was the only answer) , before Theis J found the alternative route) was that there would have to be an adoption.

 

 

18.X and Y were told both by the clinic and by the solicitors they instructed – not those involved in the present proceedings – that the only solution was for Y to adopt C1. I have referred on previous occasions to how utterly inappropriate adoption is as a remedy in cases like this: see In re A, para 71(vii), and Case I, para 24. However, as I observed in Case I, para 23, my impression is that this erroneous view, shared at the time both by the HFEA and by the clinics whose actions I have had to consider, and, I might add, by many family lawyers, was based on assumptions, derived from Cobb J’s judgment in AB v CD and the Z Fertility Clinic [2013] EWHC 1418 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 1357, which were widespread until, in February 2015, Theis J gave judgment in X v Y (St Bartholomew’s Hospital Centre for Reproductive Medicine Intervening) [2015] EWFC 13, [2016] PTSR 1.

 

 

19.Y accordingly made an application to the Family Court to adopt C1. X and Y found the adoption process – and I can well understand why – very intrusive, very hurtful and a total invasion of their privacy. Y’s account is telling: “I felt I was stared at and judged. I felt that everyone analysed us.” But more fundamentally, as X put it, “the whole adoption process felt wrong.” Y’s anguished words are heart-breaking:

 

 

 

“I feel like a piece of me has been taken away from me. I cannot even start to explain the pain it has brought to us all. We tried our hardest to do things properly and yet it’s like I no longer feel like I am [C1’s] mummy. I was [C1’s] mummy but now I am [C1’s] adoptive mummy. We do not want [C1] to be different to [C2] … We feel disappointed and let down by Barts. We planned our family carefully. We want [C1’s] parenthood to be what it should have been. Adoption is not what we wanted.”

 

X’s words are equally raw:

 

“It broke my heart when I had to hand in [C1’s] original birth certificate. I am so upset that [C1] now has a different status as an adopted child. [C1] is now different to [C2], when [this] should not have been.”

20.The report of the adoption social worker prepared for the adoption proceedings contains this important passage:

 

 

 

“This application is quite unique.” After setting out the circumstances, the writer continued: “The couple have sought legal advice and have been advised that the only way to remedy this is for [Y] to formally adopt [C1]. The couple have found this situation extremely distressing and in all honesty do not want this process. However they want everything for [C1] to be proper and legal and for [Y] to be recognised legally as [C1’s] parent, as was always intended.”

21.In due course – this was all in 2014, before Theis J had given her important judgment – the District Judge made an adoption order. It was not a happy occasion for X and Y. In her report prepared for the present proceedings, C1’s guardian records their feelings:

 

 

 

“The description of that day was very emotional. “There were lots of other couples there celebrating. It was a special day for those families. It was a miserable day for us, a defeat, a horrible occasion.””

 

Having learned of the newer approach of the Family Courts, to fix the deficiencies in the process and make declarations of parentage which would achieve the legal status as the child’s parents without adoption, the couple sought advice and made an application to revoke the adoption order.

 

As readers of the blog will know, that’s a very rare application, and less than a handful of such cases have ever succeeded. Most reported attempts have failed.

 

 

22.The guardian’s report is insightful, empathetic and humane. It is a powerful and moving exploration of what has gone wrong:

 

 

 

“[The adoption] was an unwelcome, unwanted and intrusive process but one in which [Y] and [X] felt compelled to participate for they wanted legal certainty for [C1] and were told they had no other options. They are now, understandably, further distressed to learn that other remedies may have been available to them. They are seeking a Declaration of Parentage and a revocation of the adoption order. I unequivocally support their applications.

 

… The adoption application was made with great reluctance. Particularly cruel was having to hand in the original, and very precious, birth certificate. “We are private people. It was horrible having to talk to strangers about such a personal part of our lives. It was like being public property.” [Y] talked about being asked to leave the room by the Cafcass Reporting Officer who witnessed [X’s] consent. She described sitting in the kitchen and crying.”

23.The guardian comments that at no point in the process did anyone raise any queries about the unusual background circumstances or ask whether there might be a different route to securing parenthood for C1. She continues:

 

 

 

“[C1] now has a new birth certificate and a new status as an adopted child – something [Y] and [X] now know to be completely unnecessary, having been made aware that an alternative could have been made available to them … [They] feel a level of stigma about the adoption and an acute awareness of [C1’s] difference to [C2]. They are concerned that [C1] will worry about why [C1] was adopted and [C2] is not. They are concerned about how to explain this … They are upset and angry on [C1’s] behalf – and anyone hearing their account cannot help but be moved. “We are honourable, honest people. We believed the system and we did what we were told.” They are disappointed that other professionals at the time did not question the adoption process or suggest they seek alternative advice. They feel as if the adoption was entered into under false pretences. I consider their sentiments are both understandable and entirely justified and that [C1] should not have been adopted.”

24.Recognising that revocation of an adoption order is “a most unusual step”, the guardian is nonetheless unequivocal in her recommendations:

 

 

 

“However, from [C1’s] perspective, I can identify absolutely no need or justification for an adoption order, given that a realistic alternative would certainly have been pursued at the time had the parents received different legal advice … On [C1’s] behalf, I have no hesitation in recommending that the court revoke the adoption order and replace it with a Declaration of Parentage – the latter order being one that will equally meet [C1’s] welfare needs and interests. It will afford [C1] the permanence and security that all children should have, and will give effect to the legal relationship that had always been intended when the parents had the fertility treatment. It will remove the unnecessary stigma of [C1’s] status as an adopted child and afford [C1] parity with [C2].”

 

The guardian concludes with the hope that the original birth certificate be returned, this document having, as she says, “enormous significance” for X, Y and C1.

25.I wholeheartedly agree with the guardian’s observations and unequivocally accept her recommendations. For all the reasons she gives, C1’s welfare demands that the adoption order be revoked. Common humanity to X and Y demands the same. They have suffered very greatly from failings in the ‘system’. In the circumstances I have described, to deny them the relief they seek would seem an affront to justice. But does the law enable me to make the desired order? In my judgment, it does.

 

 

26.I have been taken to the authorities: see In re F(R) (An Infant) [1970] 1 QB 385, Re RA (Minors) (1974) 4 Fam Law 182, In re F (Infants) (Adoption Order: Validity) [1977] Fam 165, Re M (Minors) (Adoption) [1991] 1 FLR 458, In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239 (affirming Re B (Adoption: Setting Aside) [1995] 1 FLR 1), Re K (Adoption and Wardship) [1997] 2 FLR 221, Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, Re W (Adoption Order: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535, [2011] 1 FLR 2153, Re PW (Adoption) [2013] 1 FLR 96, Re W (Inherent Jurisdiction: Permission Application: Revocation and Adoption Order) [2013] EWHC 1957 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 1609, Re C (Adoption Proceedings: Change of Circumstances) [2013] EWCA Civ 431, [2013] 2 FLR 1393, and PK v Mr and Mrs K [2015] EWHC 2316 (Fam). See also, in relation to the revocation of a parental order made under section 54 of the 2008 Act, G v G (Parental Order: Revocation) [2012] EWHC 1979 (Fam), [2013] 1 FLR 286.

 

 

27.There is no need for me to embark upon any detailed analysis of the case-law. For present purposes it is enough to draw attention to a few key propositions:

 

 

 

  1. i) Under the inherent jurisdiction, the High Court can, in an appropriate case, revoke an adoption order. In relation to this jurisdictional issue I unhesitatingly prefer the view shared by Bodey J in Re W (Inherent Jurisdiction: Permission Application: Revocation and Adoption Order) [2013] EWHC 1957 (Fam), [2013] 2 FLR 1609, para 6, and Pauffley J in PK v Mr and Mrs K [2015] EWHC 2316 (Fam), para 4, to the contrary view of Parker J in Re PW (Adoption) [2013] 1 FLR 96, para 1.

 

  1. ii) The effect of revoking an adoption order is to restore the status quo ante: see Re W (Adoption Order: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535, [2011] 1 FLR 2153, paras 11-12.

 

iii) However, “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””: Re C (Adoption Proceedings: Change of Circumstances) [2013] EWCA Civ 431, [2013] 2 FLR 1393, para 44, quoting Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, para 149. As Pauffley J said in PK v Mr and Mrs K [2015] EWHC 2316 (Fam), para 14, “public policy considerations ordinarily militate against revoking properly made adoption orders and rightly so.”

 

  1. iv) An adoption order regularly made, that is, an adoption order made in circumstances where there was no procedural irregularity, no breach of natural justice and no fraud, cannot be set aside either on the ground of mere mistake (In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239) or even if there has been a miscarriage of justice (Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378).

 

  1. v) The fact that the circumstances are highly exceptional does not of itself justify revoking an adoption order. After all, one would hope that the kind of miscarriage of justice exemplified by Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, is highly exceptional, yet the attempt to have the adoption order set aside in that case failed.

 

 

 

28.I bear in mind, also, two important observations that appear in the authorities. The first is the observation of Sir Thomas Bingham MR in In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239, page 251:

 

 

 

“The act of adoption has always been regarded in this country as possessing a peculiar finality. This is partly because it affects the status of the person adopted, and indeed adoption modifies the most fundamental of human relationships, that of parent and child. It effects a change intended to be permanent and concerning three parties. The first of these are the natural parents of the adopted person, who by adoption divest themselves of all rights and responsibilities in relation to that person. The second party is the adoptive parents, who assume the rights and responsibilities of parents in relation to the adopted person. And the third party is the subject of the adoption, who ceases in law to be the child of his or her natural parents and becomes the child of the adoptive parents.”

 

The other is that of Hedley J in G v G (Parental Order: Revocation) [2012] EWHC 1979 (Fam), [2013] 1 FLR 286, para 33:

 

“the adoption authorities show that the feelings of an injured party are not germane necessarily to consideration of an application to set aside. The hurt of the applicants in both In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239 … and Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (by their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378, was immeasurably greater than here and it availed them nothing.”

29.The present case is unprecedented, indeed far removed on its facts from any of the previously reported cases. The central fact, even if no-one recognised it at the time, is that when Y applied for the adoption order she was already, not merely in fact but also in law, C1’s mother. It follows that the entire adoption process was carried on while everyone, including the District Judge, was labouring under a fundamental mistake, not, as in In re B (Adoption: Jurisdiction to Set Aside) [1995] Fam 239, a mistake of fact but a mistake of law, and, moreover, a mistake of law which went to the very root of the adoptive process; indeed, a mistake of law which went to the very root of the need for an adoption order at all. The entire adoption proceeded upon what, in law, was a fundamentally false basis.

 

 

30.Flowing also from this is that the consequence of an order revoking the adoption order will in this case be fundamentally different from in any of the other cases. There will be no uprooting of C1 from one set of parents and return to another set of parents; C1 will remain, as hitherto ever since birth, with the same people, the people who, to C1, as also to X and Y, are and always have been C1’s parents in every sense of the word, parents emotionally, psychologically, socially and legally. X and Y always intended to be, and in law always were, C1’s parents.

 

 

31.To make an order revoking the adoption order, as I propose to do, will not merely right a wrong; it will recognise a legal and factual reality and put an end to a legal and factual fiction, what Ms Fottrell rightly described as a wholly contrived position. And it will avoid for the future – and this can only be for C1’s welfare, now, into the future and, indeed throughout life – all the damaging consequences to which X, Y and the guardian have drawn attention. As Ms Fottrell put it, C1’s welfare will be better served by restoring the status quo ante and setting aside the adoption order. I agree. I can detect no convincing argument of public policy pointing in the other direction; on the contrary, in this most unusual and highly exceptional case public policy marches in step with justice to X, Y and C1; public policy demands that I make the order which so manifestly is required in C1’s best interests.

Trying to get child back after adoption order made

This case made quite a lot of news last year – parents of a boy born in 2012, who suffered significant fractures. Within care proceedings, there was a finding of fact that the parents had caused these injuries and in 2013, a Care Order and Placement Order was made. In 2014, the child was placed with prospective adopters and an adoption order was made. In late 2015 (3 years after the injuries, and a year after the adoption order was made) the parents were acquitted at the criminal trial.  In fact, the Judge at the criminal trial directed the jury to acquit as there was no case to answer.  (That’s obviously a lot stronger than the case going before a jury and the Jury not reaching a 12 or 10 juror verdict that they were sure the parents were guilty. This was a criminal Judge saying that the evidence showed no case to answer)

Understandably, there’s a lot of public disquiet about whether there’s been a miscarriage of justice here, and what would happen.

 

The law isn’t very helpful to the parents in terms of their ultimate aim to get their child back. An adoption order being overturned after it has been made is very very unusual. I’ve found only 2 reported cases where that happened. One was a step-parent adoption which the birth father had agreed to and later learned that the mother had lied to him, concealing the fact that she had a terminal illness and he would never have agreed to the adoption. The other was

PK v Mr and Mrs K 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2316.html

 

Where the child had been adopted by family members who had physically abused the child, who later left them and went back to live with mother. Everyone in the case was supportive of the adoption order being revoked.  I wrote about the difficulties here:-

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/08/11/revocation-of-adoption-order/

 

The lead case on ‘oh, maybe we got this wrong, but the adoption orders have been made now’ is  Webster, where adoption orders were made on the basis of physical injuries and a Court was later persuaded that the injury had been the result of scurvy, itself the result of a failure of a brand of formula milk to have sufficient vitamin C.  The Court there, as a result of the passage of time and public policy issues declined to revoke the adoption orders.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2009/59.html

 

“Adoption is a statutory process; the law relating to it is very clear. The scope for the exercise of judicial discretion is severely curtailed. Once Orders for Adoption have been lawfully and properly made, it is only in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances that the court will permit them to be set aside.”

 

 

Anyway, in this case

Re X (A Child) 2016

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/1342.html

 

the parents went to the Court of Appeal, and all parties there *  supported a hearing taking place to DECIDE whether there should be a re-hearing of the finding of facts taking place, for the benefit of the child having the truth about their life and childhood and the public confidence in fairness of the justice system.

 

(* I add the asterisk, because as you can see from Re X, the adopters – who were at that point the child’s legal parents and had been for over a year, were not told about the circumstances or the litigation and were not parties to the proceedings. I’m not at all sure how that is fair or compliant with their article 6 rights. They were and are in law, the legal parents of the child, and it clearly had an impact on their family life.

Ms Fottrell QC made that same point, and I absolutely agree with her. The President bravely ducks the issue.

At the adjourned hearing, Ms Fottrell set out her clients’ position as being that they “appreciate and accept that in the interests of fairness the birth family are entitled to have a hearing on the facts following on from the outcome of the criminal trial”, but opposing any application to set aside the adoption order. Although making clear that her clients made no point against any of the parties, Ms Fottrell submitted that the decision to exclude the adoptive parents – X’s legal parents – from the appeal process and the permission hearing in the Court of Appeal was wrong and in breach of both Article 6 and Article 8 of the Convention. I record Ms Fottrell’s submission on the point; it is not a matter on which it would be proper for me to comment.)

 

The case has now come before the President, and he has published this judgment.   Bear in mind that the re-hearing has not taken place, so at this stage the family Court hasn’t decided whether the threshold criteria was wrongly found in 2013, or even whether it was right then on what was known at the time, but on what we know now it can’t stand.  The parents have been cleared and pretty comprehensively in a criminal Court, but the standard of proof is higher there, so it doesn’t automatically follow that any re-hearing would be bound to clear them. It very well might, but it might not.

 

As a matter of law, there isn’t really an easy legal framework for this to operate in. The parents aren’t able at this stage to apply to revoke the adoption application, because the findings in the care proceedings still stand, it isn’t an appeal out of time. So we of course use the Court’s magical sparkle powers of the inherent jurisdiction to have a decision as to whether to have a re-hearing. That’s not automatic legal aid, but it doesn’t say in the judgment that the parents  lawyers are acting pro-bono (for free) so they must have been one of those rare cases where the Legal Aid Agency grant exceptional funding under s10 LASPO.

 

The President reminded everyone that if there was a re-hearing and the findings were overturned, that would not automatically lead to the return of the child, and that the Court are not dealing with that application at all (yet), but of course, it is a prelude to the parents making such an application if the re-hearing vindicates them.

 

 

  • I am not concerned today with any application which may hereafter be made by the birth parents seeking to challenge the adoption order. That is a matter for another day and, in all probability, for another court. It is relevant only because Ms Cover has made it clear on instructions, both in her position statement and again orally, that the present application before me is, at least in part, what might be called the springboard for such a further application. However, as I observed in In re C, paras 44-46:

 

“44 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”: In re W (Children), 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. In re W (Children) can be contrasted with In re K (A Minor) (Adoption: Foreign Child) [1997] 2 FLR 221 where an adoption order was set aside in circumstances where there had been (p 227) “inept handling by the county court of the entire adoption process” and (p 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 (p 228) that: “there are cases where a fundamental breach of natural justice will require a court to set an adoption order aside.”

45 Whether the natural father 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.

46 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.”

 

  • Likewise here I express no view on a point of no little difficulty and which is, as I have said, a matter for anther day. The significance of it for present purposes is simply that, as Ms Fottrell correctly submitted, success by the birth parents (if they are successful) on the re-hearing of the facts by no means assures them of success in seeking to have the adoption order set aside.

 

 

 

In terms of whether there should be a re-hearing, the President summed up the arguments

 

 

  • The case put forward by the birth parents is simple and compelling. They have been, they say, just like the parents in Webster, the victims of a miscarriage of justice. They seek to clear their names, both so that they may be vindicated and also so that there is no risk of the judge’s findings being held against them in future, whether in a forensic or in any other context.
  • For different reasons, their desire for there to be a re-hearing is supported by X’s guardian, who submits that it is in X’s best interests that he should know the truth about his birth parents and about what did or did not happen to him.
  • I agree with the guardian. X has a right (I put the matter descriptively rather than definitively) to know the truth about his past and about his birth parents. This has long been recognised in our domestic law. In S v McC (Otherwise S) and M (DS Intervener), W v W [1972] AC 24, 57, Lord Hodson, in the context of disputed paternity, said that:

 

“The interests of justice in the abstract are best served by the ascertainment of the truth and there must be few cases where the interests of children can be shown to be best served by the suppression of truth.”

In In re H (A Minor) (Blood Tests: Parental Rights) [1997] Fam 89, 106, Ward LJ said, apropos paternity:

“every child has a right to know the truth unless his welfare clearly justifies the cover-up.”

To the same effect, in Re H and A (Paternity: Blood Tests) [2002] EWCA Civ 383, [2002] 1 FLR 1145, para 29, Thorpe LJ identified one of the principles to be drawn from the cases as being:

“that the interests of justice are best served by the ascertainment of the truth.”

 

  • But this principle is not confined to issues of paternity, as is clear from Strasbourg law, which recognises it as an ingredient of the rights protected by Article 8: Gaskin v United Kingdom (1990) 12 EHRR 36, [1990] 1 FLR 167, and Mikulic v Croatia (2002) 11 BHRC 689, [2002] 1 FCR 720. It is also recognised in Articles 7 and 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • The wide impact of the principle that, from a child’s perspective, their interests are best served by the ascertainment of the truth, whatever that truth may be, is illustrated by Re Z (Children) (Disclosure: Criminal Proceedings) [2003] EWHC 61 (Fam), [2003] 1 FLR 1194, para 13(vii):

 

“the children … have a direct and important interest … in ensuring that the truth, whatever it may be, comes out. As they grow older they will need to know, if this is the case, and however painful it may be, that their father is a murderer … In this as in other respects, better for the children that the truth, whatever it may be, comes out.”

 

  • There is also, however, a wider and very important public interest which, in my judgment, is here in play. I make no apologies for repeating in this context what I said in Re J (Reporting Restriction: Internet: Video) [2013] EWHC 2394 (Fam), [2014] 1 FLR 523, paras 29-30:

 

“29 … We strive to avoid miscarriages of justice, but human justice is inevitably fallible. The Oldham and Webster cases stand as terrible warning to everyone involved in the family justice system, the latter as stark illustration of the fact that a miscarriage of justice which comes to light only after the child has been adopted will very probably be irremediable: W v Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council [2005] EWCA Civ 1247, [2006] 1 FLR 543, Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council v GW & PW [[2007] EWHC 136 (Fam), [2007] 2 FLR 597] and Webster v Norfolk County Council and the Children (By Their Children’s Guardian) [2009] EWCA Civ 59, [2009] 1 FLR 1378. Of course, as Wall LJ said in Webster, para [197], ‘the system provides a remedy. It requires determined lawyers and determined parties’. So, as I entirely agree, the role of specialist family counsel is vital in ensuring that justice is done and that so far as possible miscarriages of justice are prevented. But that, if I may say so with all respect to my predecessor, is only part of the remedy. We must have the humility to recognise – and to acknowledge – that public debate, and the jealous vigilance of an informed media, have an important role to play in exposing past miscarriages of justice and in preventing possible future miscarriages of justice.

[30] Almost 10 years ago I said this (Re B (A Child) (Disclosure), para [103]):

‘… We cannot afford to proceed on the blinkered assumption that there have been no miscarriages of justice in the family justice system. This is something that has to be addressed with honesty and candour if the family justice system is not to suffer further loss of public confidence. Open and public debate in the media is essential.’

I remain of that view. The passage of the years has done nothing to diminish the point; if anything quite the contrary.”

 

  • In my judgment, and giving appropriate weight to the terrible burden which what is proposed will inevitably impose on the adoptive parents, although bravely and responsibly they do not oppose what is proposed, the claims of the birth parents, the best interests of X, and the public interest all point in the same direction: there must be a re-opening of the finding of fact hearing, so that the facts (whatever they may turn out to be) – the truth – can be ascertained in the light of all the evidence which is now available.

 

 

 

The law on re-opening a case is Re Z, and the President quickly skates through that (having already decided above that there is going to BE a re-hearing)

 

The re-hearing is going to take place in October 2016. That will be four years after the injury, three years after the Care Order, two years after the Adoption Order, and a year after the parents were exonerated at the criminal trial.  If nothing else, this case has not shown that the legal process can react swiftly. The President has also indicated that there may be before then a hearing about how the Press can report the re-hearing (thinking of the Poppi Worthington case, and the press interest there is going to be in this, it might for example include almost-live reporting and tweeting)

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/09/parents-cleared-of-abuse-launch-legal-battle-to-win-custody-of-adopted-baby

 

IF the findings are overturned at that re-hearing, there’s still a massive legal mountain to climb for the parents. The guidance in Webster is from the Supreme Court, so it isn’t open to the President to simply ignore it. It does however, give the small chink of light  An adoption order once lawfully and properly made can be set aside “only in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances”:

So a Court could potentially find that these ARE highly exceptional and very particular circumstances.  (though showing why very similar circumstances in Webster didn’t meet the test but this one does is going to require some particularly skilful footwork.)

 

I appreciate that people’s FEELINGS about this will be very strong, and many of you will strongly support the parents getting the child back. If I was doing the odds, based on the Webster decision, it is at best a 20% chance, even if they overturn the findings.  The Webster decision, in law, is a really high mountain to climb.  That test, as a Supreme Court decision, is a test that really only Parliament or the ECHR could change. So it is not hopeless for these parents, but legally they have a mountain to climb.

It is certainly true that the public debate and the judicial position on adoption is rather different than it was in 2008 when Webster was decided. It is possible that this will have an impact.

 

A dreadful set of circumstances for everyone involved – if the parents are found both to the criminal AND civil standard of proof to have not injured their child then what has happened to them has been the most awful thing one can imagine. They will have been completely let down by the British justice system.

It is almost impossible to understand how the child would make sense of it. The child’s adopters, who have had this child in their home for two years and who are now the legal parents of that child and consider him as part of the family, and who went into that process in complete good faith have to face months of doubt and anxiety about the future.  It would be nice if whatever the Court finally decide about the adoption order, both his adoptive parents and his birth parents get to play a strong part in his future life, but that in itself would be a brand new arrangement, never tried before in England, and litigation doesn’t often foster that spirit of all parties wanting to work together to do what is best for the child.

 

One thing is for sure, we are going to have a huge public debate about adoption in October 2016 when this case is decided, and an even bigger one if the parents are cleared but the adoption order still stands  (as the precedents suggest that it would)