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Council accused by senior judges of 'disgraceful conduct' in adoption case

Date:2 MAY 2008

A Court of Appeal ruling yesterday described as 'disgraceful' for the way East Sussex County Council blocked a father's attempt to care for his child, instead the child was adopted the day before the father could have his case heard. Lord Justice Thorpe said: That this appellant has suffered a manifest injustice can hardly be disputed. That others may suffer similarly in future is an evident risk."

The child was placed with prospective adopters only 24 hours before the father's application was due to be heard by Brighton Family Court on 30 January. The father had applied for permission to revoke the Placement Order so that he could be considered as a carer for the child. The effect of the Local Authority's decision was to deprive the father of his right to a hearing.

Lord Justice Wall, who ordered that copies of their Court of Appeal ruling should be sent to all family judges, and every adoption agency, said the conduct of the council in blocking the father's attempts to have his voice heard in the courts was "disgraceful". "That is not a word I use lightly," he said.

Lord Justice Thorpe said there was the "clearest inference" that the Council "was out to gain its ends by means more foul than fair".

"There are many who assert that councils have a secret agenda to establish a high score of children that they have placed for adoption," he said.

"When such suspicions are rife a history such as this only serves to fuel public distrust in the good faith of public authority."

Families Need Fathers Chief Executive, Jon Davies said: "This judgement recognises the role that birth parents should be given the chance to play in their child's lives. Adoption agencies can no longer ignore a father who might wish to care for his child. We hope this will also apply to grandparents in similar situations."

A spokesman for East Sussex County Council said: "We are pleased the Court confirmed that we were legally entitled to do what we did. We are, however, very concerned about the comments made by the court and we will carefully review how we exercised our duties in this case and examine our procedures in light of what the judges have said.

"In this case we regret that the father's late intervention was not acknowledged by letter which was an error on our part. We were dealing, however, with a plan in which the child's interests were paramount and which had been agreed by the courts. 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."

Lord Justice Wall suggested that the father may still be able to get custody of the child by seeking a judicial review.

"I can see no reason why the Administrative Court should not declare unlawful a decision such as that taken by the agency in the instant case. If it did so, it would quash the decision to place the child for adoption," he said.

Commenting on the case, the father's Solicitor, Barbara Macdonald of Eastbourne Solicitors Lawson Lewis & Co, said: "Although this father lost his appeal on the law, we hope this judgment sends out a stark warning to East Sussex and other adoption agencies who think they can behave in this arrogant fashion in attempting to deprive parents of their right to be heard".

In January, Mr Justice Munby ordered the immediate return of a newborn baby to it's teenage mother saying Nottingham Social Services had acted illegally by not obtaining a court order for its actions.

The baby was later taken back into local authority care after the correct procedures were followed.