Re T (A Minor) (Adoption: Validity of Order)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date22 November 1985
Judgment citation (vLex)[1985] EWCA Civ J1122-1
Docket Number85/0749

[1985] EWCA Civ J1122-1




Royal Courts of Justice


Lord Justice O'Connor

Lord Justice Balcombe

Sir Denys Buckley


Re: "T" A Minor

MRS B.A.CALVERT, Q.C., & MR E.SHANNON, instructed by Messrs. Ellison & Thomas (Manchester), appeared for the Appellant (Natural Mother).

MISS E.F.PLATT, Q.C., & MISS L.CUSHNER, instructed by Messrs. Ollier, Wilner, McManus (Macclesfield), appeared for the Respondents (Proposed Adopters).

MR ALLAN E. LEVY, instructed by The Treasury Solicitor, appeared for the Attorney General as Amicus Curiae.


I will ask Lord Justice Balcombe to give the first judgment.


This is an appeal from a decision of 16th July 1985 of Her Honour Judge Bracewell, whereby she made an order for the adoption of a male child who was born on 15th December 1984 (so he was then 7 months and is now 11 months old) in favour of the applicants and dispensed with the consent of the mother of the child on the ground that that consent was being unreasonably withheld.


The mother, whom I will call Julie, was aged seventeen. She had conceived in March 1984. The father of the child plays no part at all in this story. Any relationship he had with the mother had apparently ceased before the child was born. Julie lives with her own mother, her brothers and her sister. Her own father left home some years ago, and he took plays no part in the story. Julie concealed her pregnancy, but when she was seven months' pregnant she took her mother into her confidence, and then there was a joint decision that the baby should be adopted when he was born.


On 9th October 1984 Julie saw a social worker, a Miss McKay, who held the position of Family Placement Officer with the local council, and who was a qualified and a very experienced social worker. Thereafter a process of counselling took place. There was a preliminary interview on 9th October at which Miss McKay explained to Julie adoption procedures, and the alternatives of keeping the expected baby, either at the home of her mother, or in independent accommodation.


Julie was adamant that she wanted adoption, giving the reason that she was seventeen, wanted to work, and did not feel able to cope with the baby. Miss McKay gave Julie an explanatory memorandum, which was in evidence before the judge and which was the subject of criticism by counsel for the mother. I shall have something to say about that particular memorandum a little later. The leaflet, which is produced by the DHSS and distributed to local authorities, is written in relatively simple language and provides much useful background information. However, the learned judge took the view that it was deficient in that it did not stress the significance of placement of the child. It puts emphasis on the signing of the formal document in the presence of the reporting officer, after which the mother would not be able to take the child away from the family without leave, but it does not make it clear that time can run against the mother who changes her mind about adoption at a much earlier stage and who has not consented in writing.


On 15th December 1984 the baby was born in hospital. He was called Lance. Because Julie had been adamantly in favour of adoption, that information was conveyed to the hospital authorities, so that they could take the step (which the judge described as sensible) of separating the baby from the mother at birth and then monitoring the mother's attitude. There was a dispute before the judge as to how often Julie saw the baby in hospital, and the records did not tally with Julie's evidence. The judge accepted that she saw the child more frequently than the notes recorded, but that did not indicate any change of mind on her part, and counselling began in earnest on 18th December, when Miss McKay gave a detailed explanation of the process of adoption, which corrected any misleading impression that might have been caused by the explanatory leaflet.


After five days in hospital, Julie went home. However, on 18th December she had signed a document to which I must briefly refer. It is headed "A Request for the child to be received into care and consent to medical treatment" (that is one part of the form) and the other part, addressed to the local council, is headed, "Application by Parent or Guardian for Child to be placed for Adoption". Julie, giving her full name and address and describing herself as being Lance's mother, agreed to the child being placed for adoption by the local council. "In asking for the child to be placed for adoption, I agree" to a whole series of medical tests. Then it says: (I agree) "To the child being placed with prospective adopters considered suitable by the Director of Social Services on the understanding that the names and addresses of the prospective adopters will not be divulged to me." There was an indication that she wished the child to be brought up in the Roman Catholic faith. Julie signed and dated that form.


On 20th December Julie was discharged from hospital, and Lance went straight to the home of a foster mother, a Mrs Trigg. Julie fully understood the six weeks "cooling off" period—that is so called because the Act provides that no consent in a formal sense to adoption can be given in the case of a child under six weeks old. Julie understood that period, during which the baby would be in a foster home, and she also knew that she would have to decide whether the baby came home to her, or whether the process of adoption would begin while the baby was at the foster home. She readily signed the reception into care form and the placement request details form to which I have already referred. She fully comprehended and agreed what she was doing and was keen to proceed. She did not wish to involve her own mother in the decisions and insisted on counselling taking place at Miss McKay's office.


On 3rd January 1985 Julie failed to keep an appointment for counselling with Miss McKay, but she kept an appointment on 7th January, when the whole procedure was fully explained to her. She asked that photographs of Lance should be made available. On 21st January 1985 Julie made and kept an appointment with Miss McKay. She brought baby clothes, she arranged for the registration of the birth, and made an appointment for a visit and photographs to be taken. They were taken on the following day, 22nd January, when Julie visited Lance at Mrs Trigg's with Miss McKay, and photographs were taken of her with the baby.


In relation to those visits, the learned judge found that Julie was in fact not interested in visiting the baby, and she only did so at the suggestion of the social worker on 22nd January. That visit was described by the judge as being of some significance in the history, because she accepted, on the evidence of Mrs Trigg and Miss McKay, that Julie did not enquire about the progress of the baby, that the photographs were not an indication of a change of mind, but were to be a keepsake in relation to a baby for adoption and that Julie made no further effort to see the child.


On the way home from that visit Miss McKay was very careful to assess whether Julie might be wavering after seeing the baby because, as Miss McKay explained in evidence, this can happen in some cases, and Miss McKay was conscious of that. Miss McKay advised Julie to discuss the matter with her family and make certain of her position. A further appointment was made for 28th January. Julie, in what the learned judge described as an "unfortunate manner", deliberately excluded her mother from involvement in the counselling. Because Julie's mother did not participate, the learned judge said that she might well have had misconceptions, and she might well have been under, as the judge found her to be, the false impression that the frequent counselling was necessary because Julie could not make up her mind. That was a suggestion which the learned judge found wholly unfounded.


There was another appointment with Miss McKay which Julie kept on 28th January, when there was a discussion between them about the sort of family that might adopt the baby. That particular counselling, the judge held, was very important. Because of Julie's firmness of purpose the adoption panel met and discussed the baby on 29th January. The adoption panel is a body which has to exist under the regulations. Its advice is something to which the adoption agency (in this case the local authority) must have regard.


Julie should have been given notice under Regulation 11(2)(a) of the Adoption Agencies Regulations of the decision of the adoption agency. She was not given that notice, but the judge found that Julie knew what would have been the contents of such a notice, she knew the significance of a placement, and she was under no misapprehension of the seriousness of the step which was being taken in relation to the future of Lance. Indeed the evidence, which was not challenged on this point, went slightly further than the learned judge found, because Miss McKay, giving evidence, said this: "On the 29th" (that is of January) "the Adoption Panel met and approved the applicants subject to the medical which was to take place on the 30th January. On the 4th February an office appointment was kept by Julie. I told her that the Panel had met and agreed the placement and the applicants would be introduced to the child and that there would be a transitional period for the child to settle." Thus there was direct evidence that Julie was told precisely what the regulations required she should be told, although she should have been...

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