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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

29 JUN 2015

Re LG (Adoption: Leave to Oppose) [2015] EWFC 52

Re LG (Adoption: Leave to Oppose) [2015] EWFC 52
(Family Court, BakerJ, 22 June 2015)

[The judicially approved judgment and accompanying headnote has now published in Family Law Reports [2016] 1 FLR 607]

Adoption – Leave tooppose – Paternal grandfather only aware of child and proceedings once adoptionapplication made – Whether possibility of placement with grandfather was achange of circumstances – Whether leave to oppose should be granted

The full judgment is available below

The father was grantedleave under s 47(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to oppose theadoption application.

The young child hadbeen cared for by foster carers since she was only weeks old. The mother andchild had initially attended a mother and baby foster placement but it hadbroken down within a few days. The father failed to inform his family about thechild’s existence and the ongoing care proceedings. He lied to professionals sayingthat this was due to physical abuse he had experienced in the paternalgrandfather’s care.

Care and placementorders were made and the child was placed with the prospective adopters whereshe had remained for the past 8 months. When the father informed his familyabout the child and the care proceedings, certain family members contacted thelocal authority and expressed a wish to care for her. The prospective adoptersmade an application for an adoption order. The father sought leave to opposethe application under s 47(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

Permission was grantedto instruct an independent social worker to assess the paternal family membersand to undertake a special guardianship assessment of whichever family memberwas most suitable. The viability assessments were positive and the independentsocial worker recommended a special guardianship order in favour of thepaternal grandfather. The local authority and the guardian supported thatoption.

The father’sapplication was allowed. The court was satisfied that there had been a changeof circumstances of a nature and degree sufficient to open the door to theevaluative exercise. The developments were of very great significance. Therewere good prospects of an adoption order being refused. Although the child hadbeen with the prospective adopters for 8 months and she was likely to suffer adegree of emotional distress and being removed from their care she was probablystill young enough to be moved successfully with care and support. Theprospective adopters withdrew their application for an adoption order and thechild was placed with the paternal grandfather.

The court had to have in mind policy considerationssuch as not discouraging prospective adopters from coming forward but thefundamental policy consideration was that adoption was the last resort and wasonly permissible if nothing else will do.



This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the child and members of her family must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

Case No: BT15Z00009

Neutral Citation Number: [2015] EWFC 52
IN THE FAMILY COURT

Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Date: 22/06/2015

Before :

THE HONOURABLE MR. JUSTICE BAKER

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IN THE MATTER OF THE ADOPTION AND CHILDREN ACT 2002
AND IN THE MATTER OF THE CHILDREN ACT 1989
AND IN THE MATTER OF LG (A CHILD)

Between :

MR AND MRS A
Applicants

- and -

A LOCAL AUTHORITY (1)  
PG (2)
AB (3)
LG (by her children’s guardian) (4)
Respondents

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - --
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Marcia Hyde (instructed by Eskinazi and Co) for the Applicants
Hannah Markham (instructed by Local Authority Solicitor) for the First Respondent
The Second Respondent appeared in person
Daisy Hughes (instructed by Creighton and Partners) for the Third Respondent
Pamela Warner (instructed by Williams and Co) for the Fourth Respondent

Hearing dates: 5th June 2015

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Judgment
 
The Honourable Mr Justice Baker : 

Introduction

[1]  At the conclusion of a hearing on 5th June 2015, I gave leave under s.47(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to a father to oppose an adoption application in respect of his daughter, hereafter referred to as “L”, who had been placed with prospective adopters following the making of a placement order under s.21 of the Act. The father’s case was that L should be removed from the prospective adopters and placed with her paternal grandfather. Following my decision to grant leave, the prospective adopters withdrew their adoption application and, with the consent of all parties, L moved very quickly to live with her grandfather.

[2]  This judgment sets out my reasons for giving the father leave to oppose the adoption application.

Background

[3]  L’s parents started a relationship when the mother was 17 and the father 18. They conceived a child in 2013 but subsequently the mother underwent a termination. It is the parents’ case that the extended family on both sides were very upset that the parents had conceived a child when they were both so young and unprepared to look after a baby. Notwithstanding what had happened, the parents conceived a second child later in 2013. During this second pregnancy, difficulties emerged in their relationship and there were extensive discussions as to whether or not the mother would keep the baby after the birth.

[4]  The child, L, was born on 3rd March 2014. On discharge from hospital, the mother and L went to a mother and baby foster placement but after a few days the placement broke down. The mother signed an agreement under s.20 of the Children Act 1989 and L moved to a different foster placement. On 31st March 2014, the local authority started care proceedings.

[5]  It is the father’s case before this court that he declined to tell his family about L’s existence because he felt “scared” to tell them as “he had embarrassed and shamed [his] family and let them down again”. As a result, the extended paternal family had no knowledge of L’s existence during the currency of the care proceedings. The father was pressed by professionals, including the allocated social worker and his own solicitor, to explain why he did not want his family to be involved. During the course of these discussions, he alleged that he had suffered physical abuse at the hands of his own father, L’s paternal grandfather. His case before this court is that this allegation was completely untrue and was said with a view to “getting people off his back”.

[6]  The final hearing of the care proceedings took place before the justices and concluded on 28th August 2014 with the making of care and placement orders, the local authority having failed to identify any person within the wider family network who had the potential to look after the child. The father had disengaged from contact some months earlier and L had her final contact with her mother in September 2014. Later that month, she was placed with prospective adopters, hereafter referred to as “Mr and Mrs A”, with whom she remains living to this day.

[7]  In December 2014, the father finally informed his family about L’s existence. Members of the family immediately contacted social services to express their wish to care for the child.

[8]  On 8th January 2015, Mr and Mrs A filed an application for an adoption order in respect of L. On the following day, members of the father’s family had an initial meeting with L’s social worker, AD, at which they were informed about developments and that the local authority planned to support the proposed adoption. On 10th February 2015, the father applied for leave to oppose the adoption order. He further applied for a direction for an assessment by an independent social worker to establish the suitability of members of his paternal family to care for L. Statements in support of his application were provided by the father himself, the paternal grandfather, paternal uncle and aunt. After a case management hearing, the case was transferred to be listed before a High Court judge.

[9]  On 13th March, the matter duly came before the President who granted the father’s application for permission to instruct an independent social worker, Ms Sheila Sidhu to undertake viability assessments of each of the three options proposed by the paternal family to care for L and thereafter to undertake a full special guardianship assessment of whichever option ranked highest in the family’s order of preference to care for the child. The President made further directions within the proceedings, including listing the matter before a judge of the Division for a final hearing of the application for permission to oppose the adoption and of the adoption application itself on 3rd June 2015 with a time estimate of 3 days.

[10]  In the event, all the viability assessments carried out with regard to members of the paternal family were positive. Ms Sidhu proceeded to carry out a full special guardianship assessment of the paternal grandfather which concluded with a recommendation that such an order be made in his favour. That course is now supported by both the local authority and the guardian.

The Law

[11]  Where a child has been placed for adoption by an adoption agency under a placement order with the prospective adopters in whose favour the adoption order is proposed to be made, a parent may not oppose the making of the adoption order without the court’s leave: s.47(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. The court can not give leave under this subsection unless satisfied that there has been a change in circumstances since the placement was made: s.47(7).

[12]  Under s.1(1) of the 2002 Act, when coming to a decision relating to the adoption of a child, the court must apply the provisions of s.1(2) to (4) of the Act. S.1(7) makes it clear that this applies to applications for leave under s.47. S.1(7) reads:

“In this section ‘coming to a decision relating to the adoption of a child’, in relation to a court, includes
 (a) coming to a decision in any proceedings where the orders that might be made by the court include an adoption order (or the revocation of such an order), a placement order (or the revocation of such an order) or an order under section 26 (or the revocation or variation of such an order),
 (b) coming to a decision about granting leave in respect of any action (other than the initiation of proceedings in any court) which may be taken by an adoption agency or individual under this Act,
but does not include coming to a decision about granting leave in any other circumstances.”

Under s.1(2) the paramount consideration of the court must be the child’s welfare, throughout her life, and to that end the court must have regard inter alia to the matters set out in the checklist in section 1(4). In addition, of course, the court must have regard to the ECHR, in particular the right to respect for family life under article 8

[13]  In Re P (Adoption: Leave Provisions) [2007] EWCA Civ 616 at paragraph 26, Wall J, giving the judgment of the court, said:

“In our judgment, analysis of the statutory language in ss 1 and 47 of the 2002 Act leads to the conclusion that an application for leave to defend the adoption proceedings under s.47(5) of the 2002 Act involves a two stage process. First of all, the court has to be satisfied, on the facts of the case, that there has been a change of circumstances within s.47(7). If there has been no change in circumstances, that is the end of the matter, and the application fails. If, however, there has been a change in circumstances within s.47(7), then the door to the exercise of a judicial discretion to permit the parents to defend the adoption proceedings is open, and the decision whether or not to grant leave is governed by s.1 of the 2002 Act. In other words, “the paramount consideration of the court must be the child’s welfare throughout his life”.”

[14]  This approach was subsequently confirmed by the Court of Appeal in Re B-S (Adoption: Application of S 47(5)) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, subject to a minor qualification, as identified by Sir James Munby P at paragraph 72, that “the exercise at the second stage is more appropriately described as one of judicial evaluation rather than one involving mere discretion.”

[15]  As to the first stage, Wall LJ observed in Re P (at paragraphs 30 and 31):

“…the change in circumstances since the placement order was made must, self evidently and as a matter of statutory construction, relate to the grant of leave. It must equally be of a nature and degree sufficient, on the facts of the particular case, to open the door to the exercise of the judicial discretion to permit the parents to defend the adoption proceedings….self evidently, a change in circumstances can embrace a wide range of different factual situations. S.47(7) of the 2002 Act does not relate a change to the circumstances of the parents. The only limiting factor is that it must be a change in circumstances ‘since the placement order was made’”.

[16]  As to the second stage, the leading authority is now the decision of the Court of Appeal in Re B-S, supra, in particular the following extensive passage from the judgment of the President at paragraph 74:

“[74] In relation to the second question – If there has been a change in circumstances, should leave to oppose be given? – the court will, of course, need to consider all the circumstances. The court will in particular have to consider two inter-related questions: one, the parent's ultimate prospect of success if given leave to oppose; the other, the impact on the child if the parent is, or is not, given leave to oppose, always remembering, of course, that at this stage the child's welfare is paramount. In relation to the evaluation, the weighing and balancing, of these factors we make the following points:
(i) Prospect of success here relates to the prospect of resisting making of an adoption order, not, we emphasise, the prospect of ultimately having the child restored to the parent's care.
(ii) For purposes of exposition and analysis we treat as two separate issues the questions of whether there has been a change in circumstances and whether the parent has solid grounds for seeking leave. Almost invariably, however, they will be intertwined; in many cases the one may very well follow from the other.
(iii) 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 (Care Proceedings: Appeal) [2013] UKSC 33, in particular that adoption is the ‘last resort' and only permissible if ‘nothing else will do' and that, as Lord Neuberger emphasised, the child's interests include being brought up by the parents or wider family unless the overriding requirements of the child's welfare make that not possible. That said, the child's welfare is paramount.
(iv) At this, as at all other stages in the adoption process, the judicial evaluation of the child's welfare must take into account all the negatives and the positives, all the pros and cons, of each of the two options, that is, either giving or refusing the parent leave to oppose. Here again, as elsewhere, the use of Thorpe LJ's ‘balance sheet' is to be encouraged.
(v) This close focus on the circumstances requires that the court has proper evidence. But this does not mean that judges will always need to hear oral evidence and cross-examination before coming to a conclusion. Sometimes, though we suspect not very often, the judge will be assisted by oral evidence. Typically, however, an application for leave under s 47(5) can fairly and should appropriately be dealt with on the basis of written evidence and submissions: see Re P paras [53]–[54].
(vi) As a general proposition, the greater the change in circumstances (assuming, of course, that the change is positive) and the more solid the parent's grounds for seeking leave to oppose, the more cogent and compelling the arguments based on the child's welfare must be if leave to oppose is to be refused.
(vii) The mere fact that the child has been placed with prospective adopters cannot be determinative, nor can the mere passage of time. On the other hand, the older the child and the longer the child has been placed the greater the adverse impacts of disturbing the arrangements are likely to be.
(viii) The judge must always bear in mind that what is paramount in every adoption case is the welfare of the child ‘throughout his life'. Given modern expectation of life, this means that, with a young child, one is looking far ahead into a very distant future – upwards of eighty or even ninety years. Against this perspective, judges must be careful not to attach undue weight to the short term consequences for the child if leave to oppose is given. In this as in other contexts, judges should be guided by what Sir Thomas Bingham MR said in Re O (Contact: Imposition of Conditions) [1995] 2 FLR 124, 129, that: ‘the court should take a medium-term and long-term view of the child's development and not accord excessive weight to what appear likely to be short-term or transient problems.' That was said in the context of contact but it has a much wider resonance: Re G (Education: Religious Upbringing) [2012] EWCA Civ 1233, [2013] 1 FLR 677, para [26].
(ix) Almost invariably the judge will be pressed with the argument that leave to oppose should be refused, amongst other reasons, because of the adverse impact on the prospective adopters, and thus on the child, of their having to pursue a contested adoption application. We do not seek to trivialise an argument which may in some cases have considerable force, particularly perhaps in a case where the child is old enough to have some awareness of what is going on. But judges must be careful not to attach undue weight to the argument. After all, what from the perspective of the proposed adopters was the smoothness of the process which they no doubt anticipated when issuing their application with the assurance of a placement order, will already have been disturbed by the unwelcome making of the application for leave to oppose. And the disruptive effects of an order giving a parent leave to oppose can be minimised by firm judicial case management before the hearing of the application for leave. If appropriate directions are given, in particular in relation to the expert and other evidence to be adduced on behalf of the parent, as soon as the application for leave is issued and before the question of leave has been determined, it ought to be possible to direct either that the application for leave is to be listed with the substantive adoption application to follow immediately, whether or not leave is given, or, if that is not feasible, to direct that the substantive application is to be listed, whether or not leave has been given, very shortly after the leave hearing.
(x) We urge judges always to bear in mind the wise and humane words of Wall LJ in Re P, para [32]. We have already quoted them but they bear repetition: ‘the test should not be set too high, because … parents … should not be discouraged either from bettering themselves or from seeking to prevent the adoption of their child by the imposition of a test which is unachievable.'”

Submissions

[17]  The father’s application for leave to oppose the adoption application is supported by both the local authority and the child’s guardian. On behalf of the father, Miss Daisy Hughes submits that the revelation that L had an extended paternal family that is able and willing to care for her throughout her minority is a relevant and sufficient change of circumstances so as to “open the door” to the granting of leave to oppose the making of an adoption order. On behalf of the guardian, Miss Pamela Warner points out that not only the allocated social worker but also the guardian agree that, had the parties known the details of the extended family and been able to undertake the assessments now available, it is highly likely that L would have been placed with the grandfather at the conclusion of the care proceedings.

[18]  When considering the matters to be considered in respect of the exercise of the Court’s evaluative judgment, Miss Hughes submits, first, that the prospects of success for the opposing adoption application are good. She relies on the assessment of the independent social worker, supported by the analysis of the local authority and the guardian, as to the paternal grandfather’s ability to meet L’s needs, with the support of other members of the extended family. Miss Hughes points out that, given L’s young age, although she has been placed with Mr and Mrs A for over 8 months, she is still young enough to move without retaining in the short or medium term any conscious memory of her time in the care of the prospective adopters. Furthermore, Miss Hughes submits that the good care that L has received from Mr and Mrs A makes it more likely that she will be able to attach securely to her grandfather if placed with him. In those circumstances, Miss Hughes submits that the father has solid grounds for seeking leave to oppose the adoption application.

[19]  Miss Hughes further submits that the impact on L if the father was not given leave to oppose is that there will not be a full exploration of whether it is in her best interests to be adopted on the basis of the facts as they are now known. On the other hand, if the father is given leave to oppose, there will be a full exploration of the competing options for her long-term care of the sort envisaged by the Supreme Court in Re B (Care Proceedings: Appeal) [2013] UKSC 33 and the Court of Appeal in Re B-S, supra.. Miss Hughes submits that, in light of the President’s careful case management directions, there will be no adverse impact on L if the father is given leave to oppose because the adoption application itself will be heard immediately after the leave application so that the grant of leave will occasion no further delay.

[20]  On behalf of the prospective adopters, Miss Marcia Hyde submits that the correct application which should have been made by the paternal family is not an application for leave to oppose the adoption application pursuant to s.47(5) of the 2002 Act, but, rather, an application for permission to apply for special guardianship order under s.29(5) which provides, in so far as relevant to this case, that

“where a placement order is enforced, no special guardianship order may be made in respect of the child unless (a) an application has been made for an adoption order, and (b) the person applying for the special guardianship order has obtained the court’s leave under this subsection…”

[21]  It is Miss Hyde’s principal submission that, notwithstanding that the father makes the application pursuant to s.47(5), the fact is that neither he nor the mother seek to care for L. Instead, both of them are proposing that she be placed with the paternal grandfather under a special guardianship order and, as a result, both of them are agreeing to limit the exercise of their parental responsibility and furthermore accept that their contact to L should be limited. Miss Hyde points out that the paternal grandfather cannot apply himself under s.47(5) because he is not a parent or guardian. She contends that it cannot be right that he is able to do so by what she calls a ‘back door application’ by the father, given the clear wording of the statute. She therefore submits that this court should approach the application made by the father for leave to oppose the adoption application as if it were an application under s.29(5)(b).

[22]  The consequence of this approach would be that the court would apply a different test. Applying the test propounded by the Court of Appeal in Re G (A Adoption: Leave to Oppose) [2014] EWCA Civ 432, (which concerned an application for leave to apply for a residence order under s.29 (4) of Act in the context of adoption proceedings), Miss Hyde submits that this application amounts to an application for leave for ‘the initiation of proceedings’ and thus is not one in which a court is ‘coming to a decision relating to the adoption of a child’ under s.1(1), as explained in s.1(7). If this is right, the court does not have to be satisfied there has been a change in circumstances and, more importantly, the child’s welfare is not the paramount consideration. Miss Hyde takes no point about what she describes as ‘the correct application’ not having been made but submits that the court should apply the test at this leave stage as if ‘the correct application’ has in fact been made.

[23]  On this basis, Miss Hyde submits that the court should give particular weight to policy considerations. She contends that, if the court now allows an application which may thwart a successful adoption application, there will be grave and wide-ranging policy consequences. First, Miss Hyde submits that it will lead to a reduction in the pool of prospective adopters who will be discouraged from coming forward if there is perceived to be an increased risk of a late challenge to the adoption after the child has been placed. Secondly, she submits that the advice to future prospective adopters would inevitably be to refrain from making the adoption application until the child has been placed with them for a number of years so as to reduce the risk that the application will be opposed. This would be contrary to public policy because it would extend the period of uncertainty for the child. Thirdly, she contends that it will be extremely difficult for any court to control the timetable for assessment of family members in care proceedings, and thus the policy of identifying such placements as quickly as possible, which is an important feature of the Public Law Outline, (now in Practice Direction 12A of the Family Procedure Rules), will be undermined.

[24]  In applying the test to be adopted under this approach – that is to say, treating the application as one made under section 29(5) – the court will take into account the child’s welfare without making it the paramount consideration. In this context, Miss Hyde relies on the fact that L has thrived in the prospective adopters’ care and will continue to do so should she remain placed with them. Furthermore, she has established a close relationship with Mr and Mrs A’s older child. In contrast, Miss Hyde points out that the paternal grandfather has not had the sole care of a young baby and is untried and untested in that respect. She submits that he is likely to find it very difficult given that L will be suffering harm as the result of the breaking of her attachment to the prospective adopters.

[25]  In the alternative, if the court rejects her principal submission as to the ‘correct application’, Miss Hyde submits that, notwithstanding the decision of the Court of Appeal in Re P, the change of circumstance that is required under s.47(5) should in reality be tied to the parents because under s.29, which provides a mechanism by which non-parents can make applications within adoption proceedings, no change of circumstances is required. In the alternative, if the court finds a sufficient change of circumstance has occurred, Miss Hyde relies on her submissions as summarised above concerning welfare in support of her position that, when conducting the evaluative exercise, the court should decline to grant leave to oppose under s47(5).

Discussion and Conclusion

[26]   I do not accept Miss Hyde’s submission that I should consider the application under s.47(5) as an application under s.29(5)(b). The application made by the father, supported by the mother, is not a device to get round a statutory or regulatory hurdle but, rather, the obvious application to make in all the circumstances. It is a legal and appropriate application, and in my judgment it would be quite wrong to disregard it on the basis that there is another application that was open to the birth family. On the contrary, were the court to adopt the approach suggested by Miss Hyde, it seems to me that it could be said to be resorting to a device to get round the approach stipulated in statute as explained by the Court of Appeal in Re P and Re B-S, namely one that requires proof of a change of circumstances and, if such a change is established, a holistic evaluative analysis in which welfare is the paramount consideration.

[27]  I therefore turn to the s.47(5) application. I am satisfied that there has been a change of circumstances of a nature and degree to ‘open the door’ to the evaluative exercise. As other courts have stressed, there is nothing in the statute to limit the change of circumstances to a change in the parents’ circumstances. The developments that have occurred in this case are of very great significance. They are akin to the change that occurred in Re C (Adoption Proceedings: Change of Circumstances) [2013] EWCA Civ 431. In that case, the mother and father of a child had a brief affair while the mother was in a relationship with another man. The father, although aware of the child’s birth, was unaware that he was the biological father until after the child had been placed with prospective adopters following the making of a placement order. When a DNA test confirmed that he was indeed the father, he filed an application for permission to oppose the adoption order. The court at first instance, and the Court of Appeal, (although ultimately refusing leave having carried out the evaluative exercise), accepted that the subsequent discovery of the identity of the father following DNA testing was a sufficient change of circumstance to ‘open the door’. In the present case, the discovery that the father’s relations, far from being the dysfunctional family as portrayed by the father during the currency of the care proceedings, are in fact able and willing to offer L a home, is manifestly a change of circumstances of a degree sufficient to satisfy s.47(7).

[28]  Turning to the evaluative exercise, I accept Miss Hughes’s analysis. I accept her argument that the prospects of an adoption order being refused are good. I bear in mind the President’s observation in Re B-S that, in considering the prospects of success in such circumstances, the court is looking at the prospect of resisting the making of an adoption order as opposed to the prospect of the child being moved to the care of the birth family. In the context of this case, however, this may be a distinction without a difference because it is unlikely in this case that the court would refuse an adoption order unless it concluded that the child should be placed back in the birth family. Although L has been with the prospective adopters for over 8 months and is likely to suffer a degree of emotional distress and harm if removed from their care, she is probably still young enough to be moved successfully with care and support.

[29]  Although at the leave stage I am not able to say with certainty whether the adoption application would be successfully opposed if leave were granted, the father and his family plainly have strong arguments, given the very positive assessment carried out by the independent social worker and the endorsement of analysis of the local authority and guardian. I note the view of the social worker and guardian that, if the position as described in the independent social worker’s report had been before the court at the time of the care proceedings, it is likely that this child would be placed with the grandfather at that stage. Amongst the matters in s.1(4) to which the court must have regard is the ability and willingness of any of the child’s relatives to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child’s needs: s.1(4)(f)(ii). I agree with Miss Hughes that L’s welfare, in the sense identified in s.1(4), requires that the options of a family placement be thoroughly explored before a final decision is taken as to her long term future.

[30]  S.1(4) also requires the court to have regard to any harm which the child is at risk of suffering. There would be a risk that contested adoption proceedings may cause an element of distress and upheaval for the adoptive family which would impinge on the child’s welfare. Thanks to the President’s case management directions, the contested hearing will take place immediately after the leave application has been resolved, so the risk of distress and upheaval arising from drawn-out proceedings does not arise.

[31]  In the context of the evaluative exercise, I have considered the policy considerations that lie at the heart of Miss Hyde’s submissions. It is of course important that prospective adopters are not discouraged from coming forward. It is equally important that adoption applications are brought to a conclusion speedily so that the child can settle in the new family. It is also important that all possible family placements are identified as quickly as possible. On the other hand, as the President observed in Re B-S, I must keep at the forefront of my mind what might be described as the fundamental policy consideration identified in Re B (Care Proceedings: Appeal) [2013] UKSC 33, that adoption is the ‘last resort' and only permissible if ‘nothing else will do' and that, as Lord Neuberger emphasised, the child's interests include being brought up by the parents or wider family unless the overriding requirements of the child's welfare make that not possible.

[32]  The crucial point, however, is that the purpose of all these policies is to serve the overall welfare of children. Where the law requires the court to give paramount consideration to the welfare of the individual child, and her welfare clearly points to one particular outcome, it would be manifestly wrong to allow her welfare to be overridden by any policy considerations.

[33]  Furthermore, anyone reading this judgment will realise that the circumstances of this case (the father’s deceptive and misleading conduct, and the subsequent discovery that the birth family is, on the written evidence, manifestly able to care for the child) are very unusual. I hope, therefore, that prospective adopters will not be discouraged from coming forward as a result of this case. Adoption has a crucial role to play in our society and it is very important that people should not be discouraged from putting themselves forward as adopters. Those who do must, however, be advised that, where placement orders have been made, the law allows parents to be granted leave to oppose an adoption application where there has been a change of circumstances and the court concludes that the child’s welfare, which is the paramount consideration, requires that leave be granted. Applications for leave will only be made in a minority of cases and in most cases are unlikely to succeed, but Parliament has allowed the right to apply for leave to oppose adoption applications in such circumstances and all prospective adopters should be advised that this is the law.

[34]  In this case, having carried out the evaluative exercise in accordance with the guidance of the President in Re B-S, I conclude that there are strong welfare reasons for granting this father leave to oppose the adoption application, and I shall make an order to that effect.

Postscript 

[35]  As I indicated at the start of this judgment, following my decision to grant the father leave to oppose the adoption application, Mr and Mrs A decided that they would no longer pursue their application. After careful negotiations, arrangements were made for L to move quickly to live with her paternal grandfather. This has only been possible by the extraordinary efforts of all concerned, in particular Mr. and Mrs. A and the paternal grandfather.

[36]  I therefore conclude by adding these final brief observations. First, it is obvious to everyone in these proceedings, and it will be obvious to everyone reading this judgment, that these events have been brought about by the father’s conduct. He is a young man, and he has not had the opportunity to explain his conduct in oral evidence before me. On any view, however, it must be acknowledged that as a result of his actions, a number of people have suffered very greatly. Mr and Mrs A, and their older child, have had to endure the terrible ordeal of losing the little girl to whom they had made the extraordinary commitment that all prospective adopters make. Furthermore, his daughter, L, has to cope with the distress and upheaval of moving from the home where she is settled and thriving to live with people she does not know. All this has come about because of the father’s misleading and deceptive behaviour. I hope he will now do whatever he can to ensure that L’s life with his family is as secure as possible.

[37]  Secondly, although I have no specific criticism of this local authority’s work, (which I have not had an opportunity to examine in detail), this case illustrates the crucial importance of identifying at an early stage in public law proceedings any potential family members with whom a child can be placed. Local authorities must strive to identify the best possible methods of identifying such placements, and must not easily be distracted by comments made by natural parents which may conceal the truth.

[38]  My final observations are addressed to Mr and Mrs A. I can hardly begin to appreciate the anguish that you, and your older child, must now be feeling at losing the little girl whom you accepted into your care and looked after in an exemplary fashion. Although the birth family undoubtedly had a strong argument for opposing adoption, I do not know for certain what order I would have made at the conclusion of a contested hearing. You have made the courageous decision not to proceed with your application and to allow L to return to her birth family as soon as possible. I had not been told in detail the reasons for your decision but, from what I have read, I am confident that you would not have taken this step unless you believed it to be in L’s best interests. In those circumstances, I have nothing but admiration for your actions. I know that there will be some contact between L and you and your other child, although the details are yet to be agreed. I am sure that, as she grows older, L will come to understand and appreciate the wonderful things that you have done for her, both in looking after her for the past eight months, and in making this great sacrifice that has enabled her to be returned to her birth family.
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