A mother from Bangladesh has successfully appealed against the adoption of her youngest child.
In Re E (Adoption order: proportionality of outcome to circumstances), she and her husband had moved to England with their two children. Once here, the mother began a relationship with a neighbour and gave birth to a third child, but did not tell the husband he was not the father. The other man began looking after the couple’s children on some occasions.
Later, the third child, by then seven months old, was rushed to hospital with severe head injuries. The baby was placed with foster carers after leaving hospital and the local authority began care proceedings. Around this time, the husband learnt that he was not the father and the mother moved out, to live with her new partner. One of the couple’s two children remained with their father, however, and he sought residence orders for both.
A fact-finding hearing considered the baby’s injuries and concluded that they had been caused by violent shaking on the part of the mother’s new partner. He had a history of violence to adults. However, the hearing also concluded that the mother was unaware of the man’s history and could have foreseen what took place.
The father of the older children was granted residence and the mother was only allowed to see them if they had no contact with her partner. She had continued living with the latter because she had by that point outstayed her visa and had nowhere else to go.
Meanwhile, the local authority applied for care and placement for adoption orders for the youngest child. The mother opposed these but the judge used the authority granted by section 52 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to set aside her objections. This states that:
“(1)The court cannot dispense with the consent of any parent or guardian of a child to the child being placed for adoption or to the making of an adoption order in respect of the child unless the court is satisfied that—
(a)the parent or guardian cannot be found or is incapable of giving consent, or
(b)the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with.”
The mother appealed, and Lord Justices Laws and McFarlane, along with Lady Justice Gloster, sitting at the Court of Appeal, ruled in her favour. They said the adoption order had been disproportionate given that the only aspect of the mother’s parenting skills under scrutiny was her choice of partner. When making his order, the original judge had not properly considered the child’s welfare or the legal requirements for dispensing with mother’s consent to adoption.
In addition, they noted, the local authority had not offered the women any assistance in leaving her partner or protecting her children from him. Adoption had to be option of last resort, they said.