Council acted unlawfully in child adoption case

We often hear about situations where parents who act unlawfully during child proceedings are penalised and how their case for child contact or child custody can be seriously impacted. Our family lawyers consider a case in which a council acted unlawfully in child adoption case.

Local authority proposes plan to place child in foster care

The case of EL, R (On the Application Of) v Essex County Council (2017) concerns the applicant who is the mother of two children a boy and a girl aged 12 and 6. Following a contested hearing orders were made that endorsed care plans advanced by Essex County Council, (the local authority) for both children. A care order was made in respect of the boy based on a care plan for long-term foster care and care and placement orders were made in respect of the girl on the basis that the court approved the local authority’s plan for her adoption.

The mothers application for permission to appeal against those orders was dismissed in August 2016. In reliance on the placement order the child was placed for adoption on 5 October 2016. This decision is challenged by the mother. The challenge to the decision to place the child is founded on the decision of the Court of Appeal in Re F (Placement Order) [2008] relating to the need for a local authority to act fairly when making a decision to place a child for adoption pursuant to a placement order.

The case of Re F stated that it was only when an application to revoke a placement order had been made that the adoption agency has to seek the leave of the court before placing a child for adoption pursuant to it. The need for the local authority to comply with good practice and so a fair process when making a decision to place is, or should be well-known, because the Court of Appeal made considerable efforts to ensure that its decision was circulated.

Mother argues that decision to place the child was procedurally unfair

The mothers application is founded on the proposition that applying the guidance given in Re F the decision to place the child on 5 October 2016 was procedurally unfair. The mother also argues that it was in breach of her Article 6 rights and she seeks damages for that breach. The local authority denies that it acted in a way that was procedurally unfair.

The mother argued that the local authority had failed to keep her informed of key steps in the process, which were their intention to place the child with prospective adopters and of the placement timetable. Furthermore, the local authority placed the child in the knowledge that the mother intended to apply for permission under s 24 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002.

The council bring the date of the child’s placement forward

The mother had attended court to complete the application forms to revoke the placement order before the child visited the prospective adopters home. The court was not able to process the application due to no fee and the application not lodged properly. The court informed the council of this and they therefore had notice of the mother’s intention to seek leave to make an application to revoke the placement order and adoption. The Council advised the social work team to carry on with their plans. Subsequently, the Council brought forward the date on which the child was to be placed to 5 October 2016, in the knowledge that if the mother resubmitted her application before the child was placed, it could stop placement.

Judge rules the council acted unlawfully in adoption case

Considering all the evidence Charles J concluded that before embarking on placement, fairness required the Council to inform the mother that unless she issued an application it would proceed with placement. By not informing the mother of the existence and timing of the placement plan, and then accelerating the placement, the local authority deliberately sought to prevent the mother from making an application to revoke the placement order by placing the child before she had issued her application for leave.

The judge concluded that the mother had established that the local authority had acted unfairly and so unlawfully in placing the child for adoption. He quashed the decision to place, declared that the child has not been lawfully placed for adoption, granted injunctive relief to prevent placement before final disposal of the mother’s applications, and gave directions for the mother’s applications concerning the adoption to be considered afresh.

This case is a clear example of illustrating that it is not always parents who can unreasonably in child proceedings. We often hear about parents who are penalised for their conduct by the family, however we have now witnessed how the council, or a local authority can act unreasonably and how their case can also be impacted.

If you are a concerned parent faced with the prospect of your child being placed for adoption then you can contact our family lawyers on 0330 094 5880 to discuss your options or let us call you back. With family lawyers in York as well as nationally we are proud to offer local appointment at our branches.

Did you know as well as offering a FREE initial consultation we can also offer consultation via Skype. We assist clients both nationally and internationally to ensure our expert advice is available to everyone.

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