Ed Mitchell examines recent court cases concerning adoption, including an important ruling on the date of placement and the courts’ view of publicity
Traditionally, the courts have been reluctant to make contact orders against the wishes of adoptive parents. Recent judicial observations had suggested a relaxation of that line but the traditional approach has now been reasserted. This was in the Court of Appeal’s decision in Oxfordshire CC v X (May 2010). A court had made a contact order requiring the adoptive parents to send an annual photo to the birth parents. The Court of Appeal set aside the order and stressed that the courts must recognise that such orders remained “extremely unusual”. There was nothing in this case to justify imposing a contact order.
D (a Child) (March 2010) concerned a child whose mother was a member of the Nigerian Yoruba tribe who are said not to recognise the concept of adoption. Nevertheless, a placement order was made in respect of the child. The Court of Appeal upheld a refusal to allow the mother to challenge the placement order. The views of the mother’s ethnic group could not bar the child’s adoption.
The date on which a child is placed for adoption is important because it marks a point of no return. From that date, the law prevents a parent from applying for revocation of a placement order (section 24 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002). The High Court’s decision in R (W) v a Local Authority (February 2010) clarifies when during the adoptive process a child is placed for adoption. The court held that a child was placed for adoption before she physically took up residence with the prospective adopter. The date of placement was instead the date on which the adoption agency decision maker approved the match and on which the child and prospective adopter met each other for the first time. Therefore, as soon as those events happened, the child’s mother was unable to challenge the placement order.
A mother and father’s three children were taken into care at birth and subsequently adopted. The birth parents felt that they were the victims of a great injustice which they wished to publicise. They applied to the High Court for discharge of an injunction preventing them from discussing with any person any matter relating to the children. In Wakefield MDC v the Media (February 2010) the High Court partially granted the parents’ application.
The injunction was varied to allow the parents to talk to the media. In so doing, the court acknowledged that “human beings do feel a need to get things off their chest and, subject to protecting the welfare, rights and freedoms of others, should not be prevented from doing so”.
However, a number of strict conditions were imposed in order to prevent the children from being identified. For example, the adoptive and birth parents may not be identified in any media report.
The court also refused to impose a condition preventing identification of social workers involved in the case. The court said that “neither local authorities, nor judges, nor guardians, nor social workers who work in this public field can claim any immunity or protection from their names being mentioned in legitimate media reporting”.
Ed Mitchell is a solicitor and editor of Social Care Law Today
This article is published in the 15 July 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “Cases that reveal the latest legal thinking on adoption”