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20 JUN 2007

ADOPTION: Re L (Adoption: Contacting Natural Father) [2007] EWHC 1771 (Fam)

(Family Division; Munby J; 20 July 2007)

The mother had rejected the child at birth, and the child was being cared for by the local authority. The mother did not wish any of her own family to be informed of the childs existence, and had refused to supply any information as to the fathers identity or whereabouts, claiming that she did not know anything that would be of any use. The authority sought guidance from the court as to whether it should attempt to contact the natural father or the maternal family. In accordance with the recommendation of the guardian the judge ordered that the authority need not contact the maternal family, but required the mother to attend court to disclose key information about the father. The mother duly attended and said that no further information could be provided.

The court agreed with the statement in Z County Council v R [2001] 1 FLR 365 that it was lawful to respect and maintain the confidentiality of mothers in certain circumstances. There had almost certainly been no family life between the mother and father, but the court in any event had proceeded on the basis that the father's Art 8 rights were engaged. There was no effective mechanism by which the court could compel the mother to reveal the fathers identity. The court could theoretically order a mother to disclose the identity of the father, but enforcement of such an order was a different matter. No other steps sensibly could be taken. Cross-examination and exposure to a charge of contempt in relation to such an issue was an unattractive and unsettling prospect. The court should not seek to force or to coerce someone in the mothers position.

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