Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Thursday, 1 May 2008 16:37 UK

Judges attack adoption 'disgrace'

High Court (generic)
The Appeal Court's ruling has not overturned the adoption of the child

Senior judges have attacked the "disgraceful" conduct of East Sussex social services over the adoption of a child against the wishes of her father.

Lord Justice Thorpe said East Sussex County Council "was out to gain its ends by means more foul than fair" by rushing through the adoption case.

Appeal Court judges ordered that copies of their ruling should be sent to all family judges and adoption agencies.

A council spokesman said it would carefully review its part in the case.

It said it would also examine its procedures in light of what the judges had said.

"In exercising our responsibilities in cases like these we always have to achieve a difficult balance between considering the best interests of the child, dealing with matters in a timely way, and the interests of the birth parents and prospective adoptive parents," a council statement said.

'Manifest injustice'

The child, who the court ordered should not be identified, was born in November 2006 to parents who had had a casual relationship.

The appellant, identified only as MC, did not know he was the father until the council served care proceedings on him and asked him for a DNA test.

At the time the child was with her mother but the council had recommended adoption.

The Court of Appeal in London heard that although the father was served with the proceedings he was in hospital after a heart attack and took no part.

He eventually learned of the adoption plans once the child, known as J-L, was in the care of foster parents.

It remains our view that it would not have been in the best interests of the child to delay the adoption process further
East Sussex County Council

He alerted his solicitors who immediately contacted the council and applied for permission to revoke the placement order at Brighton County Court.

Barbara MacDonald, the lawyer who acted for the father, said the hearing was due to take place on 30 January, but on the day before the council ratified the adoption panel's decision.

She said it meant that the father, when he got to court on the 30 January, "couldn't be heard by the judge".

Lord Justice Thorpe said the council should have responded "promptly and openly" to the solicitors' inquiries and the father had "suffered a manifest injustice".

"The council's failure to answer that letter and subsequent placement on the eve of the hearing give rise to the clearest inference that the council was out to gain its ends by means more foul than fair," he said.

The judges added that no evidence in response to the father's statement was heard at an adoption meeting.

Appeal rejected

But the judges' panel ruled with "regret" that they could not allow the father to challenge the adoption order in court.

Lord Justice Wall said "a travesty of good practice" had happened in the case but ruled that the best course of action would be to ensure such conduct could not happen elsewhere.

He added that he could see no reason why a High Court judicial review should not declare a decision such as that taken by the agency as unlawful.

"If it did so, it would quash the decision to place the child for adoption," he said.

A spokesman for the father's solicitors said they would be seeking legal aid to pursue the judge's suggestion.

East Sussex County Council said it regretted that the father's late intervention was not acknowledged by letter

"It remains our view that it would not have been in the best interests of the child to delay the adoption process further and we are pleased to say that the child is happy and thriving."

Nadine Taylor, from Fathers 4 Justice, said the case illustrated similar problems experienced by many "who had no voice".

"I don't think I have seen anything positive about social services since I've been doing this work... it's as if they just ignore the fact that fathers and grandparents exist."

She added: "We have a father who's been denied the opportunity to be a loving father to his own, his own child, his own flesh and blood.

"And on top of that you have grandparents who would have probably adored the fact that they had a grandchild to dote on, and they again have been cut out of that child's life."

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