A rehearing of a decision to adopt a four-year-old will go ahead without their birth parents involvement after they withdrew from proceedings on the grounds that removing them from their adoptive parents “would not be the right thing”.
Child X was placed with adopters two-and-a-half years ago and had an adoption order made last year. Their birth parents were granted a rehearing of care proceedings in June following an appeal after a criminal court found they hadn’t caused the harm to the child which had led to them being placed with adopters.
The rehearing was scheduled to take place last month. But a week before proceedings began both parents wrote to the family court chief, Sir James Munby, and explained their decision to withdraw.
“The whole family court process left us feeling that we were presumed guilty until proven innocent and that is just so very wrong,” the mother wrote.
“The last four years have been a nightmare for us, the hardest years that I have had to cope with in my entire life…Since the family court’s decision, my health has been going downhill…We have been robbed of one of our most basic rights, to be happy and have a family, by people who know nothing about us, who seemed to assume the worst before they even knew the facts.”
The mother and father concluded that they couldn’t go through with the proceedings as they knew allowing X to return to them would be an “unusual order for the court to make”.
They said by the time a decision could be made, their child would be five years old.
“We now know it is too late to move [X] from [the] adoptive parents. This would not be the right thing for [X],” the parents told Munby.
“I want [X] to know that we would never hurt [X], but I cannot go through a fourth long court hearing where I am accused again of lying to cover up hurting [X] or to cover up for [the birth father] hurting [X]. This nightmare has been going on now for four and a half years. I cannot take any more.
“We accept that it would not be right for [X] to be moved.”
The father added: “The idea of taking [X] away from all [X] knows is not something I can live with.”
Munby then had to decide whether the rehearing of care proceedings should continue without the parents.
The local authority argued that the move was a “cynical response by the birth parents to the evidence against them”, which the authority felt “overwhelmingly” supported its case that X had suffered injury in the care of the birth parents.
There was “much more” evidence available than had been in any case beforehand, lawyers for the authority argued.
They claimed it was “no solution” to allow the decision of the original care proceedings hearing to stand.
“The Circuit Judge’s findings have been publicly questioned and there is, in all the circumstances, a clear need for a court – this court – to look at all the evidence, including the evidence the Circuit Judge did not see.”
The adoptive parents had “a degree of sympathy with the position of the birth parents”, however lawyers on their behalf argued that it was “wholly unsatisfactory” to have so much detailed evidence constructed to be “abandoned because of the reluctance of the birth parents”.
They said it was necessary for the court to make findings as the child was entitled to have the cause of their injuries determined.
The child’s guardian also argued the matters before the court were “crucial for X generally and especially for X’s life story and X’s understanding as X grows up”. In the guardian’s view, the child needed an accurate narrative of the circumstances that led to his removal from the birth parents and subsequent adoption.
Munby concluded the rehearing should go ahead. “We are in a very good position to know what the birth parents’ case is and how it would, in all probability, be deployed before me were they to remain participating fully in the rehearing.”
He also did not rule out the birth parents being compelled to give evidence if the local authority, or other party, sought to bring them before court. He made no comment on their reasons for withdrawing from the case.
The task of analysing the evidence and case that would have been put forward by the parents could be undertaken by counsel instructed by the guardian if the case was to proceed in their absence, Munby said.
“Which does not, in the unusual circumstances of this case, in any way compromise the guardian’s neutrality. The simple fact is that this is no longer a case in which the guardian has a welfare role to perform,” he added.
Munby said the process was necessary to “find out the truth for X and for the public”.