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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Supreme Court considers conditions for removing child for adoption

mother-and-child_1681173cIn the matter of B (a child) (FC) [2013] UKSC 33 – read judgment

This appeal concerned whether a child of two years of age should be permanently removed from her parents and placed for adoption; and, in that regard, whether the child was likely to suffer “significant harm: within the meaning of s.31(2)(a) of the Children Act 1989; and a consideration of whether her permanent removal might interfere with the exercise of the right to respect for family life under Article 8 of the ECHR, and, if so, whether the order  should be proportionate to its legitimate aim of protecting the child.

The following summary is based on the Supreme Court press report. References in square brackets are to paragraphs of the judgment.

Background facts

The child concerned had been removed from her parents at birth under an interim care order. The mother was for many years in an abusive relationship with her step-father. She also had criminal convictions for dishonesty and a history of making false allegations. She had been diagnosed with somatisation disorder, a condition which involves making multiple complaints to medical professionals of symptoms for which no adequate physical explanation can be found. Continue reading

Genetic testing of children up for adoption

12280487228O6zG0Y and Z (Children), 25 April 2013 [2013] EWHC 953 (Fam) – read judgment

Having children is a lottery. No judge or court in the land would sanction the regulation of childbearing, however feckless  the parents, unsuitable the conditions for childrearing, or unpromising the genetic inheritance.

Adoption on the other hand is stringently regulated, set about with obstacles for prospective parents, and strictly scrutinised by an army of authorities backed up by specialist family courts and a battery of laws, statutory instruments and guidance papers. Usually the filtering is in one direction only: the suitability of the parents to the child or children up for adoption. But sometimes it goes the other way, and this case raises the fascinating and somewhat futuristic question of whether children’s chance of finding a suitable home might be increased by genetic testing.

The circumstances were somewhat exceptional here, since the local authority had ascertained from the biological father  of the two young boys in question that they might have a chance of inheriting a rare genetic disorder of the central nervous system. Huntington’s Chorea is caused by a single gene mutation on chromosome IV and causes damage of the nerve cells and areas of the brain which in due course leads to severe physical, mental and emotional deterioration. Anyone whose parent has the disease is born with a fifty per cent chance of inheriting the gene. Anyone who inherits the gene will, at some stage, develop the disease.  Continue reading

Upper Tribunal confirms illegality of Catholic Charity’s ban on same-sex couple adoption

Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission (on appeal to the Upper Tribunal) CA/2010/0007  – read judgment

A private adoption agency could not justify its exclusion of same-sex prospective parents by arguing that this policy would keep open a source of funding that would otherwise dry up and reduce the number of adoption placements.

This was an appeal by the Catholic adoption services agency against the First Tribunal’s confirmation of the decision by the Charity Commission that it was not permitted to amend its constitution so as to permit it to continue its previous practice to refuse to offer its adoption services to same sex couples. Here is our post on the FTT’s ruling, which sets out the facts and arguments in the case. To recap briefly, the charity argued that the adoption of its proposed objects was justified under the general prohibition on discrimination under Article 14 ECHR (and its statutory analogy, Section 193 of the Equality Act).  The legitimate aim it pursued was that of providing suitable adoptive parents for a significant number of children who would otherwise go unprovided for. The Charity maintained that unless it were permitted to discriminate as proposed, it would no longer be able to raise the voluntary income from its supporters on which it relied to run the adoption service, and it would therefore have to close its adoption service permanently on financial grounds. The FTT rejected this submission, holding that though the charity’s aim of increasing adoption placements was a legitimate one, the evidence before it did not show that the increased funding of the agency’s adoption work under the auspices of the Roman Catholic church would “inevitably” lead to the prospect of an increased number of adoptions. Continue reading

Autonomy and the role of the Official Solicitor – whose interests are really being represented?

R.P. and others v United Kingdom (9 October 2012) – read judgment

The day before our seminar on the Court of Protection and the right to autonomy, the Strasbourg Court has ruled on a closely related issue in a fascinating challenge to the role of the Official Solicitor in making decisions on behalf of individuals who are for one reason or another unable to act for themselves.

The Official Solicitor acts for people who, because they lack mental capacity and cannot properly manage their own affairs, are unable to represent themselves and no other suitable person or agency is able and willing to act. This particular case involved child care proceedings, but the question before the Court was the vital one that arises out of any situation where an individual is deemed to have lost capacity to represent his or her own interests in court. What the parties asked the Court to consider was whether

the appointment of the Official Solicitor in the present case was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued or whether it impaired the very essence of R.P.’s right of access to a court. Continue reading

The Adoption Dilemma: the rights of parents v child’s interests

R. and H. v. United Kingdom (no. 35348/06) – Read judgment

This ruling from Strasbourg sheds little light on how Article 8 can help adoption procedure, but it does illustrate how courts and agencies are having to square up to the deepening crisis in adoption rates.

Newspaper and charity campaigns are vocal about this issue but little attention is paid to the very difficult business of balancing the needs of children against those of the biological or (prospective) adoptive parents.

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