Judges slam East Sussex’s ‘disgraceful’ conduct in adoption case

East Sussex Council has defended itself against criticisms by senior judges that it rushed through an adoption to prevent a challenge by the child’s father.

The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that the council had acted lawfully when it proceeded with an adoption placement a day before the child’s father was due in court to fight to keep his 18-month-old daughter. The father’s appeal was dismissed.

But the Court of Appeal judges condemned the council’s conduct as “disgraceful” and said it had deliberately set out to prevent the father from being heard in court. “What has happened in this case has been a travesty of good practice which the 2002 [Adoption] Act happens to permit,” said Lord Justice Wall.

Care proceedings
Previously, the father, who cannot be named, had shown no interest in having any involvement with his daughter and was aware of the care proceedings.

A placement order was agreed in August 2007 and was well advanced, with the child having been matched with her adoptive parents, when he changed his mind in January this year and sent via his solicitors an urgent letter of application to revoke the placement.

But the council did not respond and continued with the proceedings.

Appeal judge Lord Justice Thorpe said: “The council’s failure to answer that letter and the subsequent placement on the eve of the hearing give rise to the clearest inference that the council was out to gain by means more foul than fair.”

Lord Justice Wall said the council’s conduct showed a “profound, if not total” misunderstanding of its functions under the 2002 Act.
He added: “Moreover, and I find this particularly dispiriting, it provides useful ammunition for those who criticise the family justice system for administering ‘secret’ justice, and who attack social workers as a group for their arrogance and the manner in which they abuse their functions by both removing children from their parents unlawfully, and by stifling legitimate parental responses.
“In my judgment, the attacks made on the family justice system are, for the most part, tendentious and ignorant.
“I am equally confident that most social workers are conscientious, over-worked professionals who lack the resources to do their jobs as they would like.
“However, the social work profession must be aware of, and address, the criticisms which are made of it.”

The council acknowledged that it was wrong to not have responded to the letter. A council spokesperson said: “In this case we regret that the father’s late intervention was not acknowledged by letter which was an error on our part.

“We were dealing, however, with a plan in which the child’s interests were paramount and which had been agreed by the courts. It remains our view that it would not have been in the best interests of the child to delay the adoption process further and we are pleased to say that the child is happy and thriving.”

He added: “We are obviously very concerned about the comments made by the court and we will carefully review how we exercised our duties in this case and examine our procedures in light of what the judges have said.”

More information

Full text of judgement

Adoption and Fostering

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