A new judgment outlines a refined test for getting permission to oppose adoption orders, and also requires local authorities to organise transcripts of judgments in placement order proceedings for all the parties to the case, and to pay for the transcripts, whenever a Placement Order or Care Order is made.
The reason for requiring a local authority to get these transcripts and share them with the children, natural families and adoptive families in these cases is, at long last, recognition that childhood is a decades-long process in which orders may need to be revisited, revised, and even set aside.
Ensuring that carers and children have a written record of exactly what was said is crucial.
The new wording for permission to challenge an adoption order is also better. The test is in two parts:
- Has there been a change of circumstances?
- Taking account of all the circumstances and giving paramount consideration to the child’s lifelong welfare, should the court revisit the plan for adoption that it approved when making the placement order?
The Court of Appeal also rejects an earlier judgment which calls for parents to prove that the change in circumstances must be unexpected or unforeseen, which removes an unnecessary burden on families wanting to oppose an adoption order.
This is what the judgment says on this point:
“In the context of [the Children Act 2002] the Act, there is no reason whatever to raise the bar by burdening parents with the additional obligation of showing that the changes they rely upon were unexpected or, put another way, to deprive them of the opportunity to rely on changes that were foreseen or foreseeable.”
The government has also made changes to legal aid, which allow more parents to get legal representation when they challenge placement and adoption orders. Those changes took effect in March, and include new forms of acceptable evidence for victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
Legal aid has also been extended to more people applying for Special Guardianship Orders through the courts.
We also like to make a note of which barristers and solicitors represent natural parents in cases like these, as we know families are always looking for lawyers who will fight their corner. The barristers representing the mother in this case were Rebecca Foulkes and Frankie Shama both at 4PB, instructed by solicitors’ firm Dawson Cornwell.
Many thanks to Tum Mum for alerting us to the judgment.
- Judgment, 18 April, 2023: M (A Child: Leave to Oppose Adoption)
- Means free legal aid features in family rules changes
- Lord Chancellor’s guidance on the new legal aid measures