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?

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When adoption without parental consent breaches human rights

adoption-network-law-centerRe B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146 – Read judgment 

is the latest Judgment of the Court of Appeal on non-consensual adoption since the Supreme Court authorized a closer scrutiny of first instance decisions In re B (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Threshold Criteria) [2013] UKSC 33, [2013] 1 WLR 1911 (see comment by Rosalind English here)

It is also the most authoritative (the case was allocated to Lord Dyson MR, the President of the Family Division and Black LJ) and uses to strong language about the current inattention to Human Rights in care and adoption proceedings.

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Court of Appeal laments systemic failures in family justice

CH08-P209-ARe A (a child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1104 – read judgment

Appellate judges are obliged to review systemic failings in the family justice system as a whole, not just the merits of the trial judge’s determination, particularly where the process has deprived the parties of their rights to procedural fairness under Articles 6 and 8.  Whilst this particular appeal was  not “a fitting vehicle to enable a root and branch appraisal of the procedural history of this protracted case”,  McFarlane LJ has taken the opportunity to give full voice to the “profound feeling of failure” felt by Court on the part of the Family Justice system.

The law does its best in the triangulation of estranged parents and their children . But sometimes it does nothing more than concentrate an already toxic mixture of manipulation, mistrust and deception that seeps over the fragile construct of family life that has fallen apart at the start.  As anyone involved with the family justice system would readily agree, the conduct of human relationships, particularly following the breakdown in the relationship between the parents of a child, are not readily conducive to organisation and dictat by court order; nor are they the responsibility of the courts or the judges.  Nevertheless, as the Court of Appeal points out,  “substantive” resources have been made available to courts and judges to discharge their responsibility in matters relating to children in a manner which affords paramount consideration to the welfare of those children “and to do so in a manner, within the limits of the court’s powers, which is likely to be effective as opposed to ineffective.”   Continue reading

High level Parliamentary committee asks whether mental capacity laws are working

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Updated | The House of Lords ad hoc Select Committee on the Mental Capacity Act 2005 has now heard three sessions of evidence, and is currently calling for written evidence (deadline 3 September – details here).

The Committee, chaired by Lord Hardie (former Lord Advocate) and including such heavy-hitters as Lord Faulks (Ed Faulks QC as was) and Baroness Hollins (former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and current President of the BMA), aims to “scrutinise the legislation to see if it is working as Parliament intended” and to examined “whether the Government’s implementation programme was effective in embedding the guiding principles of the Act in every day practice, and whether there has been a noticeable change in the culture of care.”

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Brain-damaged claimant fails in Article 8 claim against Council

7c70bb7581834f77a7ca9f20e4dc6253Bedford v. Bedfordshire County Council, 21 June 2013, Jay J - read judgment

On 29 May 2004, Bradley Bedford, then aged 13, was beaten senseless by one AH, then 15, whom he had the misfortune to encounter entirely by chance near the seaside in Torbay. AH was in a children’s home there which was contracted to the Defendant Council; AH was a “looked after” child under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Bradley sued the Council for failing to protect him. His claim was limited to one under the Human Rights Act, and Article 8 ECHR in particular.

Jay J dismissed the claim on the grounds that (a) it was brought too late; (b) there was not a real and immediate risk of harm to Bradley of which the Council should have been aware; (c) even if there was, the local authority took reasonable steps to eliminate or substantially reduce any risk. All these rulings are of some interest.

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Can you decide who is to be your unpaid advocate? Eleanor Battie

mckenzie-friend11RE F (CHILDREN) 14 May 2013, Court of Appeal – extempore so currently only available as a Lawtel summary (£)

A topical case, this, given legal aid cutbacks. It concerns the ability of unrepresented litigants to choose those to help them out as advocates in court. Not an unconstrained right, as this case demonstrates. The High Court ruled that a judge had been entitled to refuse an application for a particular person to act as a McKenzie friend despite that individual not being present in court at the time of the application. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision. 

This application for permission to appeal resulted from the refusal by a family judge to permit a person to act as a McKenzie friend within care proceedings.

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Closing the loophole: Care services and human rights protection – Sanchita Hosali and Helen Wildbore

Care homeMuch of the House of Lords debate surrounding yesterday’s Second Reading of the Care and Support Bill focused on seeking solutions to complex issues around the future provision of care. Additionally, as several peers flagged, the Bill also provides a timely opportunity to clarify which bodies have legal obligations to uphold protections under the Human Rights Act. Baroness Campbell noted “those who receive their care not from a public authority but from a private body lack the full protection of the Human Rights Act…[This] is a loophole that must be closed.”

What loophole?

Section 6 of the Human Rights Act essentially creates a legal duty to respect, protect and fulfil certain human rights (drawn from the European Convention on Human Rights). This duty is placed on public authorities and those performing “public functions”. The second type of body – those performing public functions – has proved somewhat awkward in practice, particularly in relation to those who receive care services.

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