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Breastfeeding mother versus gay couple

 

I think that this case has probably been in the news, or is about to be.

It is yet another example of a case where arrangements that were made before the birth of a child where conception was not the routine (birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it) method, but a complex arrangement between adults that the adults involved did not properly record.

Re H v S (surrogacy agreement) 2015.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/36.html

 

I will use fake names, because I find in these cases that the bare initials just leave you grappling around for what the heck is going on.

The child is M (Mary). Mary was born on 27th January 2014.

Mary’s mummy and daddy were not two people who loved each other very much and when a mummy and daddy love each other very much, they have a special cuddle.

Mary’s mummy S (Sarah) says that she wanted a baby, and a gay man that she knew, H (Harry) agreed that he would provide her with the genetic material to have a baby, and that when she had that baby, she would be the only carer for that child.

Harry, on the other hand, says that he and B (Bob) are in a committed homosexual relationship, wished to have a child, and reached an agreement with Sarah that Harry would artificially inseminate Sarah, and that after the birth, Harry and Bob would care for the baby together, but that Sarah would play an active role in the child’s life.

That is not so much a gap but a Grand Canyon in the different understandings of the people involved.

Ms Justice Russell said this:-

Very sadly this case is another example of how “agreements” between potential parents reached privately to conceive children to build a family go wrong and cause great distress to the biological parents and their spouses or partners. The conclusions this court has made about the agreement between the parties which led to the conception and birth of this child will inform the basis of future decisions the court has to make about the arrangements for the child. The lack of a properly supported and regulated framework for arrangements of this kind has, inevitably, lead to an increase in these cases before the Family Court.

The Court had to deal with this as a straight private law children dispute under the Children Act 1989, rather than an application by Harry and Bob for a Parental Order under Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, because Sarah did not consent to the making of a Parental Order  (and the Court have no power to make one if the biological mother does not consent)

Also, some of these adults were Romanian, some had been raised in Romania but were of Hungarian birth, and so the child is of mixed Romanian and Hungarian heritage, although all concerned now live in England.

We add into the melting pot of complexity here that the three adults concerned are not all of the same religion and there was a dispute about what religion the child should be baptised into. There was a Court order that Sarah should not baptise the child until the Court had heard argument about this and determined the dispute, but she did, and she also lied about it. Also registering Mary with names that had not been agreed or even discussed.

 

On the 21st May 2014 the Applicants applied for prohibited steps orders regarding the child’s name and her baptism. The Respondent had registered the child on her own with her surname and with first names chosen by her that had not been discussed with the Applicants or agreed between the parties. The Applicants also applied for an order prohibiting S from having M baptised according to Christian Orthodox rites as although all three of the parties are Christian H is a Protestant and B is Roman-Catholic. An order was made by Recorder Bazley QC which prohibited any party form removing M from the jurisdiction or from causing or arranging for her to be baptised or christened. In the event S not only disobeyed the order of the court and had M baptised but lied about having done so. She informed the court and the parties that she had M baptised in October 2014 at the hearing in January 2015; this despite her assurances to the contrary to the guardian in December 2014 and to the court in her own statement dated the 7th January 2015.

 

Towards the end of the hearing, the Court heard that a Tweet had been sent about the case and that the tweet had been tagged with the name of a reporter at ITN, no doubt with the intention of stirring up a public debate.  {I think that I have seen that tweet, or retweeted versions of it on my own twitter feed, which is why I had been watching out for this judgment}

 

  1. At the outset of the trial the guardian (on behalf of M) and the Applicants drew my attention to the publication of information regarding the case on social media. The first was a posting on Facebook on the 5th October 2014 by a person known to be a friend of S. The guardian was made aware of this post soon after it was published but considered that there was no information by which M herself could be identified and decided not to bring it to the court’s attention. I accept from the information contained in it that the source of that information must have been one of the parties (or someone very close to them) and it is more likely than not that that source was S. The person concerned wrote to the court and had been involved in “mediation” between the parties. This is an example of S’s mode of conducting her case not through the court alone but by recruiting support from others to pursue her case in other arenas. I do not accept that he would have published this or the Tweet in January 2015 without her knowledge or consent.
  2. On the 16th January 2015 the guardian was made aware that the same person had made the following Tweet: Wealthy gay couple force child from good mother’s breast setting bad precedent. Starts Mon19Jan 10am High Court RCJ, court 35,
  3. The Tweet which was available to anyone online was tagged to alert a reporter at ITN. S denied any part in this tweet, and while it may be the case that she did was not directly involved in posting the tweet, it is in keeping with her conduct of the case during which she sent emails copious emails to the court, to the President of the Family Division and pursued an appeal against the order made on the 1st October 2014 apparently against legal advice. The solicitor for the Applicants, sent an email to the person who had tweeted requesting him to take the tweet down and informing him of the objections of the Applicants to him tweeting about this matter.

 

During the hearing, the mother raised two major arguments. The first was that as she had been breast-feeding Mary, that had led to a bond and relationship which would be damaging to break.

  1. S has made a great deal of her status as a breast-feeding mother and the disruption to M’s routine of staying with her father overnight; not least because M “co-slept” with S and was breast fed during the night. Although some weeks after the hearing concluded S changed her position and agreed to M staying over-night with her father and B it is evident that she did so as she accepted that she had to following the decision to refuse her permission to appeal. Prior to that S had, as I have set out above, used the fact that she continued to breast-feed M as a reason for reducing or limiting contact and claimed that it was in M’s best interest. It is the current orthodoxy, which the court does not gainsay, that breast feeding, if possible, for the first year or more as it provides many health advantages for a child. In her first statement in April 2014 S said that she wanted to breast-feed for the first 9 months; as time has progressed so the length of time she wishes to breast-feed has increased. In her oral evidence she was unable to say how long it would go on but indicated that it would be as long as M wanted it to which could be as much as several years into the future.
  2. Part of S’s case is that she sleeps with M which also provides the child with health and emotional advantages in respect of their co-attachment. The practice is not recommended for babies and small infants as there is a danger of over-lay and as a result may be considered to be more controversial, but that was not a matter that I was asked to decide. This practice when it takes place cannot be used as a reason to inhibit or curtail a child’s right to form a positive and substantial relationship with her other parent or parents; which was a direct effect of S’s practice in this case and she used it as part of her argument to support the curtailment of overnight stays. Based on the needs of a child, as M grows she must be allowed to become independent and grow as a human being separate from her parents and carers. At her age it is most unlikely that she will not suffer any harm sleeping on her own; indeed she has already experienced it without ill effect when she stayed with her father and his partner overnight.

The second was that Harry and Bob were in a gay relationship and that all such relationships were promiscuous and inherently wrong and unstable.

  1. I have now heard the oral evidence of all the parties and read copies of electronic communication between them. The dispute about the agreement is largely based on S’s assertion that she and H decided to parent a child together, and that B was to play no part other than as the child’s father’s “boyfriend”; to use her word. S has sought to present herself throughout the proceedings as a victim and someone whose “rights” as a mother and as a woman have been trampled over and abused. She claims, in terms, that H and B are attempting to remove her child, from her breast, in a cruel and calculated attempt to build a family and that she is being discriminated against and victimised. She describes H and B in an openly disparaging and dismissive way saying that they are not like a very well known celebrity couple (who she names) who have had children by surrogates; “They are not a gay couple having a child”.
  2. S repeatedly made allegations, wholly unsupported by any objective evidence, about H and B; about their relationship and about their lifestyles. About the former she repeatedly relied on stereotypical views on the nature of their relationship suggesting that she knew “they have an open relationship, what gay people call it, have sex in groups.” There is no foundation to this claim which I consider to be a reflection of her deliberate attempt to discredit H and B in a homophobic and offensive manner. At the outset of the case she filled in a form (C1A dated 19th February 2014) alleging harm and domestic violence. She said in this form that H “has an open view on class A drugs. He believes that it is OK for people to use class A drugs and has said he would like to try it himself” She went on that H “is a self-confessed antibiotics user he gets his own supply of very strong antibiotics from Belgium and use [sic] them all the time”. S went on to allege that H might give them to M if he had unsupervised contact; and to allege that there were “loads of people coming and going” from the Applicants’ address and that drugs may be used at that address. None of these allegations were followed up before or during the hearing when the Applicant’s gave oral evidence. The abandonment of allegations during the trial lends little to the weight that that court can give her evidence as a whole.
  3. I had the opportunity of re-reading the emails sent to the court and evidence filed by S both during this case and after it concluded. It is peppered with allegations, innuendo, offensive and disparaging comments about H and B. I do not need to set them all out or repeat them as most of it was never put to the Applicants and was not pursued in evidence. I had the opportunity to see the Applicants and S in court during the five days of the hearing and on other occasions when they have appeared before me. I saw S give evidence and observed her while she listened to the evidence of others. There was never the slightest indication of a cowed, submissive or victimised person. On the contrary she conducted herself in a very confident and most assertive manner throughout. She has sought to impose her will on the court and manage the proceedings. The need to express her breast milk while genuine was used to interrupt and disrupt the evidence of the Applicants. The evidence in support of this was the manner in which she could, suddenly, regulate it after their evidence was completed

 

On the factual dispute – whether this conception was intended (as Sarah says) to be a baby for Sarah to look after with Harry donating his sperm or (as Harry and Bob say) a surrogate arrangement where Harry and Bob would care for the baby but Sarah would play a role in the baby’s life, the Judge heard evidence and read a lot of emails between the main players.  The Judge concluded that the stated  intention between the parties  HAD been for Harry and Bob to be the main carers, and more significantly that rather than this being a case where mum changed her mind after the birth (as can happen), that she had basically tricked and manipulated these men into providing a baby for her when they would never have agreed if they had known it was always her intention to keep the child.

 

  1. The emails do not set out an agreement in terms and it is H’s case that after the beginning of February the discussions were oral and went on to include B. The fact that there are not any emails produced after February supported his case. It also fits in with the insemination taking place about the fourth week of April 2013, in the Applicants’ home with B there on at least one occasion. It is, and I use the term advisedly, inconceivable that B was not aware of what was going on before April and was not party to any of the discussions. In this as in much else I do not accept the evidence of S. Her later use, in evidence, of the term “sperm donor” is completely at odds with the tone and contents of her emails in February. It is not possible to accept both from what H told her in the emails and from the obviously close relationship of H and B (which I have seen at close quarters throughout the trial) that S could have ever thought that she was having a child with H to the exclusion of B; she says so herself in her emails. I conclude that she must have either deliberately misled the Applicants about her intentions or changed her mind as the pregnancy progressed.
  2. On the balance of probabilities, and for the reasons set out above and in the following paragraphs of this judgment, I find that S deliberately misled the Applicants in order to conceive a child for herself rather than changing her mind at a later date. Having at first encouraged H to be involved S was already trying to exclude H not long before M was born from involvement with the birth and with the child. I accept the evidence of H and B that S was a part of the arrangements that were made to rent a larger property. If as she claimed they were aware from the outset that any child would be her’s and live with her there would have been no reason to go to the expense of moving and furnishing a larger home. It highly unlikely that S could ever have thought H, who had told her he so desperately wanted a child in his emails, would decide to act as a sperm donor for her, there was no reason for him to do and it would have been entirely at odds with his own plans and wishes.
  3. S has consistently done all she can to minimise the role that H had in the child’s life and to control and curtail his contact with his daughter. Far from being a child that she conceived with her good friend, as she describes it, her actions have always been of a woman determined to treat the child as solely her own. She made sure that H was not at the hospital when M was born; she registered the birth without putting H on the certificate and did not give the child any names except those chosen by her and did not reflect the child’s paternal family names in that choice. The history of these proceedings bears this out; H and B were left with no choice but to issue applications.

 

 

The question then was where this child should live during her childhood?  You need to read the whole judgment to get a proper feeling for the case, there was a lot going on, but it finally gets distilled here:-

  1. The evidence has to be considered in the light of the child’s best interests. I have used the welfare checklist as the basis for my decision because I am concerned with how to best provide for M’s physical, emotional and educational needs under the provision of s 1 (3) (a) CA. Although M is not yet at school it is more likely than not that the parent who can best meet all her other needs and is most likely to be able to provide her with a secure home and stable upbringing with room to grow emotionally for the remainder of her infancy is more likely to meet her educational needs fulfil her potential in the future. The latter requires that M is afforded the scope to grow up in an environment where conflict is at a minimum. M is not yet able to say as she is just learning to talk so I do not know her expressed wishes and feelings but I assume it that for the immediate future she would want to continue to remain with S and continue to spend time with and H and B, including overnight stays.
  2. Any decision that M lives with H and B and spends much less time with S is bound to affect her, likely to upset and distress her in the short term at least and necessarily amounts to a change in her circumstances. However familiar M is with her home with H and B she would miss her mother with whom she has spent most of her time. Against that I will weigh the harm that she is at risk of suffering if she remains with her mother. As she gets older she will become more aware of, and will be directly affected by, her mother’s negative views about her father and B. These views will affect her own sense of identity; negatively inform her view of herself and where she fits into the world.
  3. I can only judge S’s ability to parent M based on recent history and based on that history M is more likely than not to suffer harm; to continue to be taken to the GP and to hospital at times when it is not necessary in furtherance of S’s determination to control M’s contact with H and B or in respect of contact or any other dispute she may pursue over M with H in the future. It is likely that S will present H and B in a negative way to M and give her limited opportunity to understand the history behind her conception and of how she came to be here; nothing in S’s conduct of her case can offer any assurance to the court that S is capable of doing that for M in a balanced way that is free from S’s own agenda.
  4. At present S is able to care for M well physically but there are already grounds for concerns about her mother’s over emotional and highly involved role in this infant’s life. Ultimately the role of a parent is to help the child to become independent. This is a child who at 15 months old is still carried by her mother in a sling on her body. M spends most of her time with her mother who does not set out any timetable for returning to work, as S would have to, to provide for M and for herself. There is a potential for enmeshment and stifling attachment rather than a healthy outward looking approach to the child’s life. The question is who benefits most from this chosen regime which points towards an inability to put the child’s needs before her mother’s need or desire for closeness.
  5. The attachment which will develop in an infant who sleeps with her mother, spends all day being carried by her mother and is breastfed on demand through out the day and night raises questions about the long term effect on M. From the point of view of this judgment it further begs the question as to who benefits most from the regime S has chosen to impose without reference to M’s father, H. I have little doubt that the breast-feeding was used a device to frustrate contact during the proceedings, a conclusion supported by S claiming at first that she could not express her milk which so reduced the time available for contact; subsequently when it was clear that M could be fed and was able to eat other foods S no longer had difficulty expressing milk. I am forced to conclude that S has shown herself to be unable to put M first and that she is unable to meet M’s emotional needs now and in the long term.
  6. The contact that S has with H and B has been very successful; the guardian who has observed it more than once described M as alert, happy and relaxed in her surroundings. Unlike S, H and B have not made a plethora of allegations against S; apart from those directly concerned with contact or her conduct towards them during contact. They have said that they want there to be as harmonious a relationship as possible between the adults and their support of M spending time with her mother is evinced by the level of contact they suggested. Their conduct has been consistent with this approach and while it is exemplified by an offer of contact which is greatly in excess of that proposed by the guardian they have never sought to exclude S from M’s life and to the end of the proceedings expressed the hope that the relationship between the parties could become more harmonious for the sake of M. The Applicants could easily have adopted the recommendation of the guardian that contact should be once a month but they have not done so.
  7. While to move a young child from her mother is a difficult decision and is one which I make with regret as I am aware that it will cause S distress I conclude that H is the parent who is best able to meet M’s needs both now and in the future. It is he who has shown that he has the ability to allow M to grow into a happy, balanced and healthy adult and it is he who can help her to reach her greatest potential. I accept the evidence of the guardian that H and B have had a child-centred approach throughout. It was obvious from their oral evidence and their statements. H, in particular, has always sought to put M first.
  8. H thought carefully about having a child and his discussions with S in the emails that they exchanged in February 2012 are an illustration of his awareness of the difficulties that would be encountered as well as a clear expression of his very great desire to have a child; and to have that child with B. It is highly unlikely that H would have reached any agreement about having a child without involving B, not least because it would have jeopardised his relationship with B and H’s future role as father to the child he very much wanted to have.
  9. The best that can be said for S is that she deluded herself about the nature of the agreement she was reaching first with H and later with H and B. It is very unlikely that such an obviously astute and determined woman would have left anything to chance when it came to having a baby. While I do not rely on the substance of the CA proceedings in Kent I do take account of the fact that S no longer has her daughters living with her and has limited contact with them. This situation, whatever its cause and whatever her role in it, will indubitably make it more likely that she wanted, as she said, to have another child for herself. The emails that she sent were deliberately misleading and S continued in the deceit, allowing H to believe that he and B would be the main carers for the baby until pregnancy was well advanced.
  10. It is not the function of this court to decide on the nature of the agreement between H, B and S and then either enforce it or put it in place. It is the function of the court to decide what best serves the interests and welfare of this child throughout her childhood. It is, however, a fact that M was not conceived by two people in a sexual relationship. The pregnancy was contrived with the aim of a same-sex couple having a child to form a family assisted by a friend, this was ostensibly acquiesced to by all parties at the time the agreement was entered into and conception took place. Therefore M living with H and B and spending time with S from time to time fortunately coincides with the reality of her conception and accords with M’s identity and place within her family.
  11. M should live with her father H and his partner B as it is in her best interests to do so; I reach that conclusion having had regard throughout to the welfare checklist and to M’s interests now and in the long term.

 

 

The Court therefore decided that Mary should move from Sarah’s care to live with Harry and Bob.  We will wait to see whether the media reporting deals with the substance of the case that the Judge had to decide, or whether it follows the easy sound bite narrative of the tweet – Court rips child away from mother’s breast to give to gay couple…

 

There is a Reporting Restriction Order in place that the child and the adults involved not be named, and as ever it applies to me and any commenters, so if you do know the names, I don’t want to see them here.

 

Relinquishing for adoption and nothing else will do

This is a High Court case, decided in April, but the report of judgment has only recently come out. I’m grateful to Celtic Knot for ensuring that it came to my attention
I touched on the (at that time unresolved) issue of whether the raft of jurisprudence on ‘non-consensual adoptions’ also applied to step-parent adoptions and relinquished babies where the mother was giving the child up for adoption but the father was not identified/told.

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/04/12/step-parent-adoption-telling-the-birth-father/
and this High Court case Coventry City Council and A 2014 deals with the relinquished adoption issue (and my next blog post will deal with the Court of Appeal’s decision on step-parent adoptions)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/2033.html
If you want the Too Long; Didn’t Read version – it is that I would be very cautious about relinquished adoptions particularly if there is any international element. If either parent is from another EU country, I would strongly urge you to read the judgment in Coventry CC and A. I suspect that it will make ‘relinquished adoptions’ considerably more protracted, complicated and expensive.
This case took nearly a year to resolve (with a baby that mother wanted to give up for adoption – so twice as long as fully contested care proceedings are intended to take)

Part of the reason why is that the mother was Romanian, and the High Court embarked on a process of notifying the Romanian authorities about the existence of the child and the potential order that would be made in the UK courts.

Let’s look at what mum had to say about her extended family

The hospital was able to contact the mother through her friend, Z, via a mobile phone and a meeting was arranged with the mother to attend the hospital on 7th June. Initially the mother failed to return but, ultimately, after some persuasion, she did so with her friend Z. She was spoken with through an interpreter speaking Romanian. At this meeting she gave her baby a name after some prompting with the social workers and held the baby for the first time showing some emotion in doing so. The mother gave information about her and her baby’s background. She said that the father was Romanian Roma but she was herself Romanian. She refused to provide the father’s name. She said that her family were not aware of her pregnancy. She had not told them about it or her relationship with the father and she had concealed the pregnancy from them. She said that her family would not approve of the relationship with the father as he was Roma and her mother would disown her if she knew. She wanted the baby to be adopted. She intended to return to Romania as soon as possible after she received her new travel documents.

She said she was from a named village in Romania, that she had two other children residing there, a son aged nine and a daughter aged ten and they were being cared for by their maternal grandparents. She had no money to support a baby. She said the father was aware of the pregnancy but was not interested and he was not aware that the baby had been born. She had come here on holiday to see her friend, Z, who came from the same area as the maternal grandparents. She had not told Z about the pregnancy until her waters broke. She said she had no fixed abode, she moved between the homes of various friends and had been evicted the evening before and was at that time staying with a friend of Z.

That seems, to me, to be a very clear message that the mother did not want her relatives approached or told of the existence of the baby.

Unfortunately, mother did not help herself because she didn’t attend the appointment with a CAFCASS officer to sign the adoption forms. Nor did she attend the second such appointment, and then she vanished.

The baby was thus not, in law, relinquished. Mother had agreed to give the baby up for adoption but had not signed the paperwork that would be a vital part of the process. That meant that rather than being a relinquished baby adoption, this had to go into care proceedings.

And, the case having gone into care proceedings, efforts had to be made to find and serve the mother.

[HUGE LESSON here – if you are dealing with a mother who wants to relinquish her baby, it is vital that she is made to understand that not filling out the forms is going to make life much worse for her. Fine to decide ‘I don’t want to sign them because I want the child back’, but ‘I don’t want to sign the forms because I want to stop thinking about this’ is just going to make things much much worse]

It made things much much worse for this mother here, because a process server was sent out to look for her in a Romanian village near Bucharest

The process server met with the mother’s own mother who is Romanian, who told him she is looking after the children at the family home, that the mother was not in Romania, she had left a few months ago to go to the United Kingdom. She said that the family believed she was working as a prostitute in the United Kingdom and recently had had problems and had been in hospital. The process server was unable to gain any further information but was able to say that the address in Coventry, which the mother had given to the local authority, did not exist.
In the second report, dated 30th November, the process server described the village as being small, about 100 kilometres from Bucharest, with “a majority gypsy population very poor and simple peoples.” He met with the mother’s own mother again who was shown a photograph of the mother. Initially she denied recognising the mother but later produced a copy of the mother’s ID card with a photograph of the mother. Whilst there, a niece of the mother identified the photograph as the mother and a sister of the mother did so as well. The grandmother then returned with a copy of the mother’s ID card and was able to confirm that the photograph with the process server was that of the mother. The process server then showed a photograph of the mother to a village policeman who identified it as that of the mother and said that she had been registered as missing but had returned to the address and was declared not missing. It seems he thought that she was probably in the United Kingdom and said that she did not have a relationship with her family. The local authority have been unable to trace the mother and has no information as to the father’s identity or whereabouts.

Remember, of course, that this mother did not want her family to know anything about the baby or to become involved. So that worked out marvellously for her. (I also dread to think how much Coventry had to pay for the Romanian equivalent of Jim Rockford to go out flashing this photograph of the mother around, including showing it to a village policeman)
The final upshot though, was that the mother was not found, and the care case thus proceeded in the absence of the mother, or a father.

What then happened was that the Court caused the Romanian authorities to be informed of the case. It took a while to get any response out of them, but once they started to respond, they got highly responsive, ultimately saying that they wanted the case transferred to Romania and were wholly opposed to a child of Romanian parents to be adopted, even where the mother herself was not opposing it.

 

the Romanian authorities have been informed as to the existence of A and the existence of these proceedings and the care plan for adoption. The care proceedings were issued on 9th August last year and the application for the placement order was on 14th October. These applications were transferred from the Coventry Family Proceedings Court to the Coventry County Court on 18th November 2013 due to the complexity of the international aspects. On 20th November her Honour Judge Watson directed that the Romanian central authority be invited to attend the next hearing on 4th December. On 4th December, although the Romanian central authority had been notified, no representatives attended but on 2nd December the Romanian Directorate for International Law and Judicial Cooperation wrote saying that the correspondence had been forwarded to the child protection directorate and that a response was awaited.
On 4th December Judge Watson invited the Romanian central authority to write to the local authority by 23rd December informing the local authority of its position concerning the baby and the substance of any representation or applications that they were intending to make to the court. A further invitation was made to the Romanian central authority to attend at the next hearing on 13th January, it being noted that the court may make such an order on that date in the absence of any representation and the court considered that sufficient notice had been given. Judge Watson also ordered that the local authority do have permission to disclose this order and other relevant documents suitably redacted to the Romanian central authority before forwarding it to the Romanian child protection directorate that a warning of the confidentiality of the court proceedings would need to be maintained until further order.
The local authority was ordered to send a copy of the order to the Romanian central authority under cover of a letter explaining that their attendance is requested at the next hearing when final orders may be made in their absence. Judge Watson ordered that the Romanian authorities should not disclose the birth of the baby to the maternal family without the permission of the court. She gave leave to the Romanian central authority to apply to discharge parts of the order.
The matter was restored to her Honour Judge Watson on 13th January. The Romanian central authority had been invited but made no representations and was not in attendance on that day. However, the court read a letter from the Romanian directorate for International Law and Judicial Cooperation and another letter from the director of the Romanian child protection department and noted that the child protection department was content not to inform the maternal family about the birth of the baby and the judicial proceedings whilst A’s best interests were considered.
The child protection department does not consider the adoption of the child as justifiable and that it seeks the return of the child to Romania. Various directions were made and the matter was transferred to Mrs Justice King to be heard in the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 17th January 2014. The Romanian authorities were invited to make representations to Mrs Justice King. It was noted that such attendance is essential if the court is to consider the Romanian authority’s opposition to the local authority’s application for care and placement orders. By paragraph 4 of the order if the Romanian authorities wish to oppose the local authority’s application for care and placement orders they are invited by the court by 16th January to file and serve a document setting out their case in detail whether questions regarding the child’s welfare are subject to determination under the United Kingdom or the Romanian law; however, the courts in England have powers of jurisdiction to determine the questions relating to the child’s welfare and any points they make in opposition to the local authority’s plans for the child, any points they wish to make in support of a plan for the child to be returned to Romania, and the plan they propose for the child’s care including how her medical needs would be met. The Romanian central authority was to be served forthwith.
The letter of 9th January which was before Judge Watson came from the Directorate of International Law and Judicial Cooperation addressed to Coventry City Council, “Please find attached letter of response from the child protection directorate concerning the child. The Romanian child protection considers that the international adoption of a child is not justified as Romanian national law provides specific and limited situations when international adoption can take place. The child protection directorate requests repatriation of the child to Romania where the local child protection agency will be available to make the necessary investigations and to adopt protective measures for the child.”
The directorate also wrote on 16th January again to the local authority, “Further to your message of 13th January, we are sending you attached the answer provided by the child protection directorate dated 15th January. With regard to the question raised by the Coventry County Court on the question of jurisdiction, it is our opinion that Article 13 of the EC council regulations number 2201 of 2003 is applicable, that the Royal Courts of Justice could also take into consideration and apply the provisions of Article 15 of Brussels II (Revised). As to the question of consent and participation by the Romanian representative at the hearing on 17th January our office cannot confirm that at this time.”
The letter that was enclosed came from the Directorate of Child Protection which is dated 15th January; “Further to your request for an opinion regarding the case of A, we believe that we should make the clarifications below. As you are aware from the information provided by the British authorities, the Romanian side has been asked to observe confidentiality about the situation of the child and the identity of the parents. It has been mentioned in our previous correspondence that there is a complete provision for Romanian local authorities to support and assume repatriation of the child considering that she is a Romanian national. However, given that the British authorities have only provided us with extremely brief information about the situation, we believe that their request dated 4th January that a series of documents should be made available by the 16th which should present a proposed plan for the child including the manner in which her medical situation would be handled and any other arguments meant to challenge the decisions made by the local authority that the child is adopted are unrealistic considering that any serious assessment must be based on documents that affect both the social background and they affect the medical condition of the child and the family environment of the natural extended family of the child in order to make a substantiated decision about setting up a measure of special protection. Under the circumstances in relation to the recent request by the British court we wish to mention that our institution upholds its opinion about the Romanian local authorities assuming the responsibility of repatriating this child to Romania and that the specialised documents will be prepared by the general directorate of social assistance for child protection from the country of domicile after the British Social Services provide us with the documents that describe the current situation. Whether a representative of the Romanian Embassy will appear on 17th January, please be advised that we cannot issue an opinion about the designation of the representative who will participate.” Then it was signed off

 

Yes, I have left out of my opening remarks that this case is going to involve Brussels II, but sadly it does. I just didn’t want to put you off reading it at the outset, apologies for my deception.
It gets worse, because then the Romanian authorities began to get cold feet about whether the mother was in fact Romanian, and that debate went on for ages and ages. Their position was that IF the baby was Romanian, then they would want the case and would oppose adoption, but in the absence of documentary proof about the mother’s nationality they wanted no part of it (and they weren’t accepting the process server’s detective work at finding family members and a policeman who confirmed that mother was from a village in Romania)

On 13th March the child protection department wrote the following: “Taking into consideration that child citizenship is still to be clarified, we would like to state that if the court would confirm the child is a Romanian citizen, then the Romanian local authorities from the county where the child’s natural family has residence would issue all the required documentation to return the child to Romania specifying also detailed measures and individual protection plan under which the child’s best interests would be protected. We would like to mention that repatriation procedure as well as the background checks are carried out by the Romanian authorities would be based on the government decision number 1443 of 2004 regarding procedures for the repatriation of unaccompanied children providing the child’s best interests would be protected. If, following the assessment made in relation to the child’s extended family or natural parents, it would be decided that the family re-integration is not an option, then a Romanian competent authority would recommend the child be placed in a foster care based on a court order. The child’s placement would be done by the panel for child protection in the county of residence thought necessary by the court depending on the evidence presented if special protection measures are necessary. Taking into consideration the child’s age, the foster care placement would be the solution to be considered by the Romanian authority as under the current Romanian law, a child under the age of two cannot be placed in a residential institution (orphanage). We would like to emphasise that for the moment the Romanian authorities have been unable to identify the child’s extended family members due to the confidentiality of this case. If the citizenship of the child and the mother are established as Romanian then the Romanian authorities will assume true responsibility for its repatriation be handling the case under Romanian laws.”
That was the final word from the Romanian authorities and the note that sets out the general picture, that letter does not give a timescale as to what would be done, when it would be done and when the child could be placed. There is a lacuna as to what actually would be done in fact and the timescale was not set out.

The Court had to consider the factual matrix to decide whether this baby was habitually resident in England, thus giving the English Court jurisdiction, and decided that she was.

I accept that it is likely that the mother and the little girl are both Romanian. I cannot say that I am one hundred per cent certain but the evidence firmly indicates that likelihood. The mother seemed to speak Romanian as her first language. She talked about Romania and said she was returning to Romania. It seems that we have located her family. I am not making a clear finding of that because all I can do is to look at the evidence before me and the mother is not here. The little girl was born here and the mother wanted her to be adopted here. There was no pressure on her to reach this conclusion. It was her conclusion and she gave her reasons. She said that she had no money to support the child; that her family did not approve of her relationship with the father, that they would disown her and they would not support her and that the father himself was not interested. She herself had concealed the pregnancy from her family and from her friend, Z. The mother has effectively abandoned A to her fate here. She wanted her to be adopted in the United Kingdom, hoping that she would find a good home.
Effectively the mother has left her daughter. Since the birth, A has been here, she has never left this country, she has been in hospital for good reasons after her birth and then when she was ill in July. She only left hospital in September when she was placed with her foster carers and she has not left their care since. She looks on them as her carers, as her family, their home is her home, she knows nothing else, she is only ten months old but she is comfortable, seemingly happy and settled in that environment. If she has a language, it is English. It is not Romanian. No doubt she is familiar with the sound of English. She may now be understanding a lot of things, I know not, but if she has a language it is English. Her culture is that of her carers. The environment in which she lives is that of her carers. She has accessed the United Kingdom’s health system. She moves around her carers’ home area with her carers. She will know their friends and her environment is that of her carers who are British, living somewhere in this country, although I am not sure where; that is where she is and that is her environment. She has had no contact with her mother since 7th June when she was still very, very small. It is clear to me that there is a distinct level of integration for this little girl in the social and family environment in this country with these carers. She has no connection from a practical day to day point of view with Romania. It is clear to me that she is habitually resident here and I make that finding.

In that sense, there is no need for me to consider Article 13 and I have jurisdiction because she is habitually resident here but if I am wrong on that, Article 13 would kick in. Where a child’s habitual residence cannot be established and jurisdiction cannot be determined, the courts of the Member State where the child is present shall have jurisdiction. I am saying that Article 8 applies, this child is habitually resident in this country and by that means I have jurisdiction
The next issue, then, was whether the appropriate venue for decisions to be made was England or Romania, applying article 15 of Brussels II

The Court decided not to transfer the proceedings to Romania (and if you are some sort of Brussels II addict, then the specific paragraphs are 44-50.

The NEXT issue was whether there should be an approach made to the extended family in Romania, and HERE for the first time is a live debate between parties to the proceedings. The Local Authority wanted to respect mother’s clear wishes, the Guardian wanted to explore the extended family so that adoption would only be the outcome if it was the last resort.

This has long been a difficult philosophical issue, and it is difficult to ever find a decision on this point that most people would agree on.

The Court here decide that it IS in the child’s interests for that exploration to be made, and place reliance on ‘nothing else will do’ (although it is quoted as ‘nothing less will do’). That, I suspect, is likely to be the conclusion of such debates in the future, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary.

It does, as the Local Authority submitted, raise the spectre of mothers not coming to Local Authorities to relinquish where they don’t want their family involved or contacted, but going back to the bad old days with babies being left in wicker baskets outside hospitals or police stations.

I move on to the last issue before me which is should enquiries be made of the maternal family in Romania and that this would entail a breach of the mother’s confidentiality. The local authority have said that there should be no more enquiries, that it would not be in A’s best interests. It would delay the proceedings here and it would delay the making of a care order and a placement order. The guardian is of a different view and says that there should be enquiries because it would be in A’s best interests if those enquiries are made.
It is never an easy point to breach the confidentiality of a mother who has given birth in difficult circumstances and I recognise that she does not want her family to know about the child and she has given her reasons. It has been said by the local authority that if it became known by a mother in similar circumstances, and if she felt that her confidentiality would be broken, she may not seek the assistance of medical help in giving birth; she may seek “a back street abortion” or give birth secretly which would endanger the mother and the child. The reality is that each case depends on its own facts. The matter is within my discretion.
Under the Children Act my task is to consider the child’s best interests and that must be my paramount consideration. It then sets out the checklist required by section 3 as to whether I make an order or relating to the welfare and best interests of the child. Under the Adoption of Children Act 2002, section 1(2) the paramount consideration of the court must be the child’s welfare throughout his or her life and I am referred to the checklist and things that I have to consider all relating to the future welfare of the child. The care plan here is for adoption. Romania, I acknowledge, does not have the same rules for adoption and their position for placing children is different from ours. Here, recently adoption has been described as the last resort for a child when all else fails and that was said in Re B [2013] UKSC 803 or, as Lady Hale said, it is “when nothing less would do”.
It is a last resort at the end of the day because it is the curtailment of a child belonging to his or her natural family. By adoption the child legally becomes a member of another family and is incorporated into that family on an everyday basis. She would become a full member of that family legally, practically, and emotionally. It is a change of identity of lifestyle, environment, a change of everything in a child’s life. It is a cutting off for the child from her background or the knowledge of the family and the environment in which she came from and it is a cutting off in law as well. The President in the recent case of Re B indicated that it should only be done on very clear evidence and there must be proper evidence both from the local authority and from the guardian and the evidence must address all issues and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option. There must be clear evidence and proper information or as much as can be garnered. All options must be considered before a care plan for adoption can be accepted, with a placement order being made or an adoption order being made.
The court has a duty to ensure that full and proper enquiries have been made of the child’s family. Herein lies the problem, the tension between the little girl’s interests and rights and those of the mother. The mother is not present because she cannot be found and she is not here to put her view and her voice cannot be heard but she made her wishes and intentions for her daughter clear. She wanted the little girl to be adopted and she wanted full confidentiality and had concealed the pregnancy. It is not known how the maternal family would react or what the consequences might be either within the family or to the mother if it became known by the family that the mother had given birth to this little girl and had effectively abandoned her in a foreign land. That we do not know. All we have is the indications by the mother that the family was disapproving of her relationship with the father and she felt that they would not support her in keeping the baby, that the father was not interested. We do not know the consequences that might arise if the family knew about it. All we know is that she wanted confidentiality for her own reasons.
Against that, the little girl has her rights and rights that should be considered before she is adopted here by her current carers. Enquiries should be made to see if she can be returned to her family, her culture, her birth environment, the country of her origins and those are her rights. Both sides, the mother and the daughter, can claim their right to Article 8 of the Human Rights which is that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of respect except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety, and economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. In other words, in a case like this, there is to be respect for the individual’s private and family life and that the court and others should not interfere with that right.
I must also remember that if the information is correct, there are other members of her family, the grandmother, and there may be a grandfather, the half-siblings, and the father himself would have rights to know about this child, to have a voice in that child’s upbringing, if only to say, “We are not interested,” but they have rights.
It is established law that if there are conflicting interests between a child and adults that after careful consideration of all the interests and consequences of any order, and the child’s interests are paramount and they prevail over others.
On the one hand, we have the mother’s position, as she set out and her wishes and her intentions for her daughter. On the other hand, we have the little girl’s interests. Very little is known about her mother or her maternal family or their circumstances and even less about the father who has not been identified. The guardian, on behalf of A, says that it is important to carry out further enquiries and investigations to see if there is a long-term family member available in Romania, if there is a possibility of direct or indirect contact in the future if she is to remain here and to be adopted; and, if she is to be adopted, more information as to her background would be useful as to her family, their background. Such information may be of value to her in the future to know who she is, to know her background and to give her some sense of identity as to where she came from. Her guardian says that eventually if she is to be adopted, she will grow up to know that she has been adopted but she needs to know before she is adopted that everything was done that should have been done before a decision is made and that will be of value to her in her adult life. The guardian accepts that if there are to be further enquiries, there must be no delay.
There was a window of opportunity in February, it has narrowed in the last few weeks and there is very little time left if those enquiries are to be made. If I allow enquiries to be made, they should be strictly time restricted. The local authority say that there is enough information for this court to proceed, that this child needs to be settled quickly, decisions should be made and there should be no more delay given that the mother’s wishes are clear.
I accept, if there is to be further investigation, that delay is an issue. Fortunately she is well placed. If she is to be adopted there will be no move and therefore she herself from a day to day point of view will remain settled until more is known and further decisions can be made but against that, the stress and strain on the carers must be huge. They love her and are committed to her and want to commit to her long term. They need certainty now or very soon from now. It is not fair on them to make them wait for ever. I bear that very much in mind because they are doing a good job and the little girl is benefiting from their care. Anxiety within the home never is good. It will or potentially could impact upon their care and that is what worries me.
I have thought about this and it is not an easy issue but I have come to a decision. I have come to the view that it would be in A’s best interests to make further enquiries in Romania about her family and for the reasons set out by the guardian but those enquiries should be strictly time limited. There should be a strict timetable as to when they should be concluded. If they are not concluded in the timescale because it has not been possible, then decisions will have to be made in this court to conclude these proceedings. I think there should be one last attempt to make further enquiries of the mother’s family and of the father’s if he can be identified and of the provision and systems for child care in the Romanian locality.

 

As I said at the outset, this was not strictly a relinquish case, because mother didn’t sign the forms, but it is on any reading a case where that was her intent, and the High Court here apply “nothing else will do” as a rationale for not making the order, delaying the proceedings and making further enquiries about family members.