SITTING AT LEEDS
B e f o r e :
|Re J (Adoption: Appeal)|
The Mother and Step-father were unrepresented
Hearing dates: 31 January 2018
Crown Copyright ©
The Honourable Mr Justice Cobb:
i) "[T]he details and identity of J's father are unknown to verify the birth father's background details";
ii) "J may have other half-siblings however this is not known due to the identity of his father being unknown";
iii) "J's birth father details are unknown and therefore there is no information of paternal family members";
iv) "[M] advised that she had met J's birth father at a party. She had a sexual encounter with him but was unaware of the boy's details. She described him as a young male, possibly similar age… [M] says she was unsure if he was a friend of a friend locally or from a different area. [M] says that she was under the influence of alcohol and going through a rebellious stage at the time. Following the sexual encounter there was no further contact, or any details known for her to be able to contact him. On discovering she was pregnant she tried to ascertain the details and identity of the male but was unable to discover this";
v) "As part of the adoption enquiries, the author made contact with [M]'s parents and grandparents. They confirmed during the visits made to them of [M]'s account, verifying the information provided by [M]. They advised that they had attempted to ascertain information at the time of the pregnancy. They confirmed that they did not know the identity of J's birth father";
vi) "The author has therefore from enquiries undertaken not been able to establish paternity as J's father's details, or any extended paternal family details, are unknown";
vii) "[M] described that these details [i.e. of the identity of F] were unknown to her as she has never known the details of J's father … [M] attempted to locate and ascertain details about the unknown male and has never identified him";
viii) "The family [i.e. M and SF and J] appear to be a warm, caring, stable unit".
i) F's identity;
ii) F's mother's address (she had not moved in the period since J had been born);
iii) F's mobile telephone number;
iv) How to contact F on social media;
v) F's mutual friends, through whom they had met.
"Although the applicant to the adoption [SF] and his then wife [M] were well aware of his identity, that he was indisputably the father of [J] and had numerous ways of making contact with him, they made no attempt to serve him with the papers in the Application or inform him of the proposed adoption.
In the alternative, or in addition, [SF] and [M] lied to the Local Authority, the Reporting Officer and the Court about their knowledge of the paternity of the said [J] and deliberately frustrated their enquiries.
In the alternative or in addition the Local Authority, the Reporting Officer and the Court were unable to properly assess the application for adoption because of false information provided about [J]'s paternity, his relationship with his birth father, the contact he had had with him and the father's known desire to have a relationship with the child all of which appear to have been hidden from the professionals in the case by [SF] and [M]".
The merits of the appeal
"An adoption order is not immune from any challenge. A party to the proceedings can appeal against the order in the usual way. The authorities show, I am sure correctly, that where there has been a failure of natural justice, and a party with a right to be heard on the application for the adoption order has not been notified of the hearing or has not for some other reason been heard, the court has jurisdiction to set aside the order and so make good the failure of natural justice. I would also have little hesitation in holding that the court could set aside an adoption order which was shown to have been obtained by fraud".
More recently, Butler Sloss LJ (as she then was) applied the same thinking in Re K (Adoption and Wardship)  2 FLR 221 at 228H, when she said that:
"The law seems to me to be clear that there are cases where a fundamental breach of natural justice will require a court to set an adoption order aside".
"…a fundamental statutory protection for a child who any person seeks to adopt. It is produced by a local authority officer and a local authority is subject to statutory duties in its compilation that directly relate to the safeguarding of the welfare of the child concerned" Re S (Adoption: Annex A report)  EWCA Civ 1345, Sir Ernest Ryder SPT at .
The checklist of relevant factors for the court to consider under section 1(4) ACA 2002 are more of course widely drawn than for the making of lesser, child arrangement and associated, orders. Applicants for adoption can be assumed to act responsibly and with integrity. But of course, there are those, as here, who do not. Professionals can only work with the information they receive, and if parties are determined to pull the wool over professional eyes, and encourage others (friends and/or family members) to do the same, only through conscientious detective work on the part of the social worker will the deceit ever be likely to be unearthed.
i) the likely effect on J (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of F's ("original") family and become an adopted person
ii) the wishes and feelings of F, of any of J's paternal relatives, regarding J.
"Proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against a person who makes or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth"
In accordance with rule 17.6 FPR 2010, power is vested in the court to commit to prison those who make or cause to be made false statements in a document without an honest belief in the truth; the procedure is that set out in rule 37.17 FPR 2010.
Welfare-based consequential orders