The right to respect for private and family life does not survive adoption, the High Court has ruled.
Seddon v Oldham MBC concerned a 27 year-old woman who had been taken into care at the age of six. She was shuffled between nine different foster homes over the following decade. In 2008, at the age of 20, she became involved in a relationship with her sister’s partner, fell pregnant, and gave birth to a daughter, referred to in the judgement as ‘A’.
A’s father has played no part in her life.
Social workers decided that the new mother was “not coping”, and arranged for her to stay with A in special accommodation where her parenting abilities could be assessed. This placement ended after less than four months, and Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council launched care proceedings in May 2009.
A was placed was placed with a foster family, and the following year, formal care and placement orders were made, making the foster carers A’s new legal parents. The presiding Judge said:
“… A, as every child, is entitled to a family life in which all her needs will be met. I am afraid mother cannot meet those in the next few months, and it is too long to wait in the forlorn hope that perhaps things will change…”
The mother was allowed to write to her daughter twice a year but this was later dropped to just once after she continued to oppose the adoption.
Mr Justice Peter Jackson noted that:
“In March 2010, face-to-face contact between [the biological mother] and A took place for the last time.”
Later that year, she made an unsuccessful bid for a contact order. This was dismissed, but she continued a determined campaign of opposition, the Judge explained.
“[The mother] has never accepted that she could not meet A’s needs. For the past five years she has challenged A’s adoption through legal processes and on the internet.”
Her efforts included three separate attempts to appeal the care and placement orders. One came before the now retired Lord Justice Thorpe who admitted that her case had been made with “conviction, ability and careful preparation.” But it remained “hopeless” he insisted.
The mother petitioned the European Court of Human Rights, but her case was declared inadmissible. Nevertheless, she went on to make two claims under the Human Rights Act 1998, insisting that she still held rights in relation to A under the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 sets out the right to respect for a person’s private and family life.
The first application came to an inconclusive end, with no order made, so the mother renewed the claim.
Separately, she also made a claim against the Council for the events surrounding her own entry into the care system, claiming it had been late in removing her from her parents, and had not provided her with therapy for her experiences. But this claim was also unsuccessful.
The mother did, however, receive some support from an independent social worker, who declared, in her relation to her daughter:
“The adopters need to appreciate (in a socially-networked virtual world) that it is now almost inconceivable that A and [the mother] will not resume contact with each other at some stage during A’s adolescent/young adult years.”
“It is also likely one day that A will read the court papers concerning her history and her adoption. She will learn how vigorously her mother ‘fought’ to have her returned to her care, and how they were prevented from maintaining contact with each other. This could fuel her resentment and anger towards her adoptive family and be a disturbing experience for A, which could threaten her lifelong wellbeing.”
In the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Jackson considered the mother’s renewed human rights claim. She argued that the insertion last year of a new section (51A) into the Adoption and Children Act 2002. outlining the possibility of post-adoption contact between biological parents and children, had constituted legal acknowledgement of the importance of such contact. But the Judge concluded that it had only provided “a means by which post-adoption contact can be agreed or ordered. It cannot in itself create or maintain an Art. 8 right as between a birth parent and an adopted child.”
Article 8 rights between a biological parent and child are, he declared, brought to an end by adoption orders.
Read the full judgement here.
Photo by mb_photo via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence