The Supreme Court has unanimously denied a Scottish local authority’s petition to assume parental responsibility for a three year-old girl.
West Lothian Council took the child into care shortly after her birth and sought a ‘permanence order’. In Scotland, these orders eliminate a parent’s right to live with their child and give local authorities permission to find a permanent adoptive home for the child in question. In this case the girl, ‘EV’, was born to parents who had both “experienced learning difficulties throughout their lives”.
The local authority’s concerns were based on the father’s behaviour prior to EV’s birth. In 2010, he was charged with criminal sexual conduct against “a vulnerable female person who suffered from learning difficulties”. However these charges were quickly dropped after the woman accusing him gave “inconsistent and contradictory accounts” of what happened to the Police.
The council’s application was successful in the Outer House of the Court of Session, which deals with civil matters in Scotland. Despite the charges being dropped against the father the Lord Ordinary, the Judge in the Outer House, believed the alleged behaviour was sufficient to put EV at risk. Therefore he granted West Lothian Council permission to put her up for adoption. However the parents objected to this decision and challenged it in the Inner House. This functions similarly to the Court of Appeal in England and Wales. To the parents’ dismay, the Inner House upheld the original ruling.
Undeterred, the parents took their case to the Supreme Court and this time they were successful. The Justices all agreed that the Lord Ordinary had taken a “deficient” approach to the case. They said he “should have made a finding of fact on the balance of probabilities as to whether the allegations [against the father] were true” if he was going to use them to inform his decision.
The Supreme Court declared that there would be no permanence order made and that if the local authority wished to pursue the matter further they would have to launch brand new proceedings as the case would not be sent back to the Court of Session. This would give the council the chance to present evidence which “focuses on matters which are truly relevant to the issues which the court has to determine” rather than unrelated incidents from the father’s past.
Read the full Supreme Court judgment here.
Photo of the seal of the UK Supreme Court by Matt Brown via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.