(European Court of Human Rights, 8 January 2012)
The child, now 4 years old, was removed days after birth due to concerns that the mother was unemployed, had no income, was supported by her mother, attended a special needs programme in school and lived with her mother and her mentally ill brother in a dilapidated house with no heating. The welfare centre applied for an order divesting the mother of her parental rights. The order was granted on the basis that the mother suffered from a mild mental disability and was not able to provide proper care for the child. The mother was not represented in those proceedings.
The mother, through her legal aid lawyer, sought to restore her parental rights out of time and submitted that the home had been renovated, her brother was now being cared for outside of the home and that her mild mental disability should not be used as a reason for depriving her of her parental rights. The mother's appeal was dismissed due to the child already being placed for adoption.
The mother alleged the Art 8 rights of her and her son had been infringed in that she could not effectively participate in the proceedings and that her son had been put up for adoption without her knowledge, consent or participation in proceedings.
The court considered that the national authorities should have ensured that in view of the importance of the proceedings at issue, that the mother's interests were adequately protected. While consent was not necessary due to her loss of parental rights given that the opportunity to appeal was available it was indispensible that a parent had the opportunity to exercise that right before the child was put up for adoption for that right to have any meaning. The mother's rights under Art 8 had been breached.