Challenging adoption order using human rights

Adoption blueThe recently released statistics from the Department for Education showing an increase of 15% in the adoption of looked after children in the last year further highlights the government’s preferred strategy for ensuring the welfare of children in care.

In my recent post, I considered the main thrust of the decision of the Court of Appeal in Re B-S which concerned the rigour which was expected of evidence, hearings and Judgments before a Placement Order was made.

However, the Court also dealt with the issue which had concerned Lord Justice McFarlane  when he gave permission to appeal  namely, where a Court has already made an order that a child may be placed for adoption and that has happened and the prospective adopter has applied for an Adoption Order, in what circumstances can a parent seek to stop it going ahead?

In contrast to the invasive surgery the Court of Appeal has undertaken on the human rights of Placement Orders, their approach to challenges to Adoption Orders has been more subtle. The Court upheld much (but not all) of the previous case law but added, “we fear it may on occasions have been applied too narrowly and indeed too harshly.”

The Context

A Placement Order gives permission to an adoption agency to place a child with prospective adopters. In the case of a non consensual adoption, the court has to determine whether the welfare of the child requires that the consent of the parents should be dispensed with.

There are certain circumstances in which a parent can apply to revoke a placement order but this comes to an end when the child is placed for adoption. Thereafter there is no opportunity for a parent to challenge the process until an application for an adoption order is issued.

A parent can oppose the making of an adoption order but to do so requires the leave of the Court and the Adoption and Children Act 2002 specifies that the Court cannot give such leave unless it is satisfied that there has been a change of circumstances since the making of the Placement Order.

It is also settled that once such leave is given the Court effectively have to decide afresh whether to dispense with parental consent to adoption in the light of the circumstances that then exist.

A decision by the Court to give leave to a parent is therefore profound. As the Court of Appeal said in Re B-S,

“not merely is the parent able to oppose the making of an adoption order, but the parent, notwithstanding the making of the earlier placement order, is entitled to have the question of whether parental consent should be dispensed with considered afresh and, crucially, considered in the light of current circumstances (which may … be astonishingly different from those when the placement order was made).”

In a system which loves reducing matters to such, the case law is clear that there is a two-stage test:

(1)            has there been a change of circumstances? if so

(2)            should leave to apply be given (in answering this question the child’s welfare is paramount)?

On the first question, the Court of Appeal determined that the law is correctly set out by Wall LJ in Re P (Adoption: Leave Provisions) [2007] EWCA Civ 616; [2007] 2 FLR 1069. The judgment of the court (Thorpe and Wall LJJ and Hedley J) was given by Wall LJ who said:

“The change in circumstances since the placement order was made must … be of a nature and degree sufficient, on the facts of the particular case, to open the door to the exercise of the judicial discretion to permit the parents to defend the adoption proceedings.”

When considering the second test, the Court of Appeal determined that aspects of two Court of Appeal Judgments on section 47 (5) [which concern the necessity to obtain the Court’s leave to oppose the making of an Adoption Order] should no longer be followed (Para 68):

(1)            Thorpe LJ’s phrase, “exceptionally rare circumstances” in Re W (Adoption; Set                                                                       aside and leave to Oppose) [2010] EWCA Civ 1535; [2011] 1 FLR 2153

(2)            the use by the President in Re C (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1431 of the word “stringent”                                                     to describe the test.

To that extent they have removed a gloss on the words of the statute.

In the light of current thinking, the Court of appeal in Re B-S prefer to talk about an exercise of judicial evaluation when considering the second stage, rather than discretion. The Court reiterated that two inter-related questions were apt in particular: as to the parent’s ultimate prospect of success of resisting the making of an adoption order (as opposed to having the child to return to live with the parent) and the impact on the child if the parent was/was not granted leave to oppose.

The Court went on to give guidance in such cases including a reminder that the Judge must keep at the forefront of his/her mind the teaching of the Supreme Court in re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, [2013] 1 WLR 1911  that adoption is only permissible, “if nothing else will do.” As with a Placement Order, the CA recommends drawing up a judicial balance sheet of the positives and negatives for the purposes of evaluation. The Court is enjoined by the statute to have regard to the welfare of the child throughout his life. As such, the Judge must be careful not to attach undue weight to the short term consequences for the child if leave to oppose is given. The mere fact that the child will, inevitably, have already been placed with adopters cannot be determinative.

Comment 

This does represent a nudge to the Courts to think seriously about the possibility of granting more parents leave to oppose adoption orders. These are already very unhappy hearings and tend to cause profound distress to the prospective adopter with whom the child has been placed. They are not assisted by the fact that the Legal Aid Authority does not generally provide public finding for such applications and the parents are usually before the court unrepresented.

The most excruciating of these cases are usually not the ones where a parent or parents have transformed their lives for the better since the Placement Oder was made but where a mother has concealed the birth of the child and the proceedings from a father who only comes to know of the case after the Placement Order is made. Given the likelihood that such fathers – if found – are very likely now to receive leave to oppose adoption orders (and may very well succeed ultimately), this Court of Appeal Judgment should give greater impetus and urgency to efforts to make sure that all parents are properly traced and given notice of proceedings before any Placement order is made.

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5 thoughts on “Challenging adoption order using human rights

  1. You refer to some of there people as parents, I believe if they had parented their children sufficiently then their children would not have found themselves in care.
    Please in future prefix the word parent with ‘birth’ when referring to those who gave life to the child.
    The child’s true parents are the ones who gave them a chance in life – their Foster families & Adoptive Families.

    • What a lot of rubbish, we have had our grand daughter taken into to care, by lies and false allegations from social workers. They said we won’t suitable to look after her, when we have for the past 2 years, we both have full CRB checks. The ss accused us of sexual abuse, now they have removed it from the report. Of to court next week, for a discharge order, made by me, wish me luck

  2. What is strange in all the courts concern in ‘the best interests of the child’ is the following:-
    1/ Where are the human rights to the child, Where is it discussed that a child is having a major part taken away. The right to be brought up by his/her own birth parent or parents. The right to his/her true identity, The right not to be made an object of concern and be free from malicious acts by a govenment, LA or court which caused his/her displacement.
    2/ The right to interfere with that right is only gained by the rights to the protection of the child by an LA, police or court So given that a criminal offence must have been committed to give that right to interfere, why are thousands of children being removed where no criminal offence can be proven or has indeed taken place.
    Back to the human rights of the child. False allegations, malicious intervention, wrongful removal of child, displacement, wrongful holding within state care, family name being tarnished (child’s identity) denial of rights to be cared and nurtered for by his/her mother and or father. Denial of rights to life saving future medical treatments/ transplants,which may have to be by close relative donation. Denial of education, often lost through state care. The rights to stay within his/her own country of birth, even neighborhood, school, extended family, friends and everything that has provided stability.
    A child should only be removed from its birth family IF the child would be better looked after elsewhere . In the case of all children in care this has been proven false in far too many cases. In the cases of forced adoptions the idications are clear, that though the parents may have been within crisis, ill health etc at the time a parent who does not give consent would with or without assistance improve the situation for the child and the bond is strong. Therefore the harm caused to the child by permanant removal is void.

  3. Therefore the harm caused to the child by permanant removal is void? In actual fact the permanant removal is in fact child abuse as in most cases the loss to the child far outweighs any good done by intervention and the removal of the child could cause his/her death where genetic medical conditions require a close relative donation.

  4. Pauliboo, I’m sorry but prefixing parent with birth, is delusional. The truth is, they are their parents and that is that. Look into the horrifying cases of children removed from loving parents and forcibly adopted. Adoptive parents are simply adoptive parents, not the ‘real parents’ and never will be.

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