A family court judge has ordered the fact-finding hearing of a case where parents had their child adopted be reheard after the couple were acquitted of criminal charges of causing injuries to their child.
The chief of the family courts, Sir James Munby, ruled that a new fact-finding hearing was necessary for the parents of a child, referred to as X, who was born in 2012, and has been living with his adoptive parents since 2014.
The unnamed local authority had concerns after a series of injuries on X were identified, and a judge found the case against the parents proved. The judge later refused the birth parents leave to oppose the adoption, and made an adoption order in 2015.
No case to answer
However, at a subsequent criminal trial, “the expert evidence had expanded both in volume and, very significantly, in its ambit, but at the date of the hearing before the judge in the family court this new evidence was not to hand”.
Prosecution against the parents was later abandoned, and they were acquitted “on the basis that there was no case to answer”.
The birth parents then launched an appeal against the original fact-finding decision in care proceedings. The appeal was supported by the child’s guardian and the adopted parents. However, the adoptive parents said they would oppose any application to undo the adoption order.
The parents said they had been “the victims of a miscarriage of justice” and intended to try and have the adoption order revoked if the rehearing overturned the original findings.
Clear their names
“They seek to clear their names, both so that they may be vindicated and also so that there is no risk of the judge’s findings being held against them in future, whether in forensic or in any other context,” Munby said.
He also agreed with the guardian’s submission that the child had a right to know the truth about his past and birth parents.
He said, while success by the birth parents on the rehearing of the facts “by no means assures them of success in seeking to have the adoption order set aside”, it was appropriate for a full rehearing of the original allegations made in the care proceedings.
Case law quoted by Munby said “the law sets a very high bar” against any challenge to an adoption order, which can only be set aside “in highly exceptional and very particular circumstances”.
A similar case in 2009, called ‘Webster’, heard similar circumstances to this one. Adoption orders were made for multiple children on the basis of one of them having suffered physical injuries, but the court later heard the injury had been the result of scurvy. Despite this finding, the court did not revoke the adoption orders.
The rehearing will happen in October 2016.