ON APPEAL FROM BOURNEMOUTH & POOLE COUNTY COURT
His Honour Judge BOND
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION)
ON APPEAL FROM BRISTOL COUNTY COURT
His Honour Judge BARCLAY
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
LORD JUSTICE GOLDRING
LORD JUSTICE ELIAS
|In the Matter of W (A Child)|
|In the Matter of H (Children)|
The appellant parents in person (Re W)
Ms Charlotte Pitts (instructed by Legal Services, Bristol City Council) for the respondent local authority (Re H)
The appellant parents in person (Re H)
Hearing dates : 24 September 2013 (Re W) ; 26 September 2013 (Re H)
Crown Copyright ©
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division :
Re W – the facts
"Although judgment has yet to be given [in Re B-S], I consider that it is inevitable that the approach taken in the present case by HHJ Bond will require reconsideration in the light of Re B and the pending decision n Re B-S; this is particularly so in the present case because of the judge's finding that there had been a clear, and positive, change of circumstances since the placement order was made."
Re H – the facts
"Once he or she has got to the point of concluding that there has been a change of circumstances and that the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave, the judge must consider very carefully indeed whether the child's welfare really does necessitate the refusal of leave. The judge must keep at the forefront of his mind the teaching of Re B, in particular that adoption is the "last resort" and only permissible if "nothing else will do"."
If the appeal is allowed
"That is not a step that should have been undertaken on that day. The judge should have postponed making the adoption order so that the mother had limited time to come to this court, if she wished to, to seek permission to appeal. I would therefore criticise the court in Chelmsford for not allowing a window of time between refusing permission to oppose and granting the adoption order."
He added, "That is a lesson for the future for other cases."
Re W – the judgment
"I have come to the conclusion that on the evidence before me these parents have established a change in circumstances sufficient to open the door to the exercise of the court's discretionary jurisdiction … It does seem to me that these parents have, through the treatments that they have received and the courses they have undergone, changed their own situation and attitudes. They are in the process of bettering themselves."
In my judgment Judge Bond was fully entitled to arrive at that conclusion; indeed, it is not challenged by the local authority.
"So, to that extent I accede to the parents' submissions. However, moving on to the next part of the exercise, I think it s much more difficult from the parents' point of view."
He noted that the child had been in her placement since November 2012. He went through the welfare checklist in section 1(4) of the Act, noting that in practical terms the child had moved to foster care from hospital and then to the adoptive placement, before concluding that the relationship that she has with her family is not one that weighs very strongly in the balance.
"Looking at the case overall and looking at the discretionary part of the exercise, I am not satisfied that it would be right to grant the permission required."
He then set out almost in full Coleridge J's judgment in Re W (Adoption: Set Aside and Leave to Oppose)  EWCA Civ 1535,  1 FLR 2153, para 30 (see Re B-S, para 63), commenting that "these are sentiments with which I agree, having considerable sympathy for the parents in this case." He concluded as follows:
"So, adapting that part of the judgment in Re W to the facts of this case, it seems to me that they are particularly apposite to the position in which these parents and the court finds itself today. For all these reasons I, therefore, reject the application for permission to oppose the making of an adoption order."
Re H – the judgment
"I am prepared for the sake of today's appointment to say that there has been a change of circumstances, but that is not the end of it because I then have to go on and say, in ordinary language, is it sensible for [the children] for me now to enable these arrangements to be unscrambled?
The children have been placed with a view to adoption on 21st September 2012, they last saw their parents for a goodbye visit in August and from all I have read they have settled very well with their prospective adopters."
"I have to consider what is in [the children's] best interests under the 2002 Act. However much intensity the parents bring to bear on their application, however much love they have for their children, the fact is that the two children were removed as long ago as January 2012. They last saw their parents in August of last year. They have been placed with a view to an adoption order being made on 21st September of last year and in those circumstances I am very sorry to say as far as [the parents] are concerned that even if there has been a change of circumstances, which I am prepared to accept there has been, I cannot grant leave to oppose the making of an adoption order … I am afraid it is not possible now, whatever changes the parents have made, to unscramble all these arrangements that have been made and in those circumstances I am afraid I must refuse the application for leave to oppose."
A final concern
"It is the plain and unqualified obligation of every person against, or in respect of whom, an order is made by a court of competent jurisdiction, to obey it unless and until that order is discharged. The uncompromising nature of this obligation is shown by the fact that it extends even to cases where the person affected by an order believes it to be irregular or even void."
For present purposes that principle applies as much to orders by way of interlocutory case management directions as to any other species of order. The court is entitled to expect – and from now on family courts will demand – strict compliance with all such orders. Non-compliance with orders should be expected to have and will usually have a consequence.
Lord Justice Goldring :
Lord Justice Elias :