The most senior judge in the family courts, Sir James Munby, has reiterated that a recent ruling has not changed the law on adoption.
In a court judgement, published today, the president of the family division at the High Court stated: “I wish to emphasise, with as much force as possible, that Re B-S was not intended to change and has not changed the law.
“Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders.”
The judgement in Re B-S was directed at practice, rather than law, Munby emphasised.
Munby used the opportunity to address concerns from within the sector that the judgement, handed out in 2013, was being used as an opportunity to criticise social workers and local authorities.
Myths and misconceptions
While they cannot evaluate the prevalence or validity of these concerns on practice, “they plainly need to be addressed, for they are all founded on myths and misconceptions which need to be run to ground and laid to rest,” he said.
The Re B-S judgement criticised poor analysis and reasoning being put forward regularly in adoption cases, and was attributed as the cause of a sudden drop in placement orders this year, which led the Adoption Leadership Board to publish a “mythbusting” guide about the judgement last month. Munby stressed that this guide was not endorsed by the judiciary.
He stated: “Re B-s does not require the further forensic pursuit of options which, having been properly evaluated, typically at an early stage in the proceedings, can legitimately be discarded as not being realistic.
“Re B-S does not require that every conceivable option on the spectrum that runs between ‘no order’ and ‘adoption’ has to be canvassed and bottomed out with reasons in the evidence and judgment in every single case.”
Clarifying adoption concerns
Munby also used the judgement to address concerns that adoption applications must now surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’.
Alexandra Conroy Harris, a legal consultant for the British Association of Adoption and Fostering, believes this will help clear up “the great deal of uncertainty” that has surrounded adoption for several months.
She said: “This judgement will help both courts and local authorities when making decisions regarding the long term future of these children.
“We support the President’s efforts to improve the standards of evidence and analysis in all cases involving decisions about a child’s future, and welcome the clarification that adoption should be properly considered as an option for those children.”