(Court of Appeal; Thorpe, Arden and Wall LJJ; 17 July 2008)
The local authority had conceded that it had committed 'a serious error' in the course of the adoption proceedings, in that it had failed to provide the Agency Adoption Panel with expert reports, or even a proper summary of those reports, and that the views of one of the experts had been seriously misrepresented to the panel. The Recorder nonetheless went on to make the placement order.
Allowing the parents' appeal, the adoption agency had breached Adoption and Children Act 2002 and Adoption Agencies (Wales) Regulations 2005 (whose English counterparts were Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005) and the Recorder should have remitted the case to the panel for urgent reconsideration in the light of all the information that should properly have been before it. The Act and the Regulations were there to be honoured and obeyed in their entirety; the framework could not be by-passed or short-circuited. If the decision of the Agency Adoption Panel (AAP) was flawed in any material respect, then the decision maker could not properly consider the AAP recommendation, and thus could not be satisfied that the child in question should be placed for adoption. Expert reports from care proceedings that addressed the present and future needs of the child should be provided to adoption panel members in advance of the relevant meeting and to decision makers for pre-reading. If such reports were voluminous, at a minimum those sections of the report setting out the experts' opinion, conclusions and/or recommendations should be provided in advance. A summary of the experts' opinions should only be provided to the panel members and the decision maker in substitution for the reports if: (a) the summary was in writing; (b) all parties to the care proceedings agreed; and (c) copies of the reports were available at the meeting for panel members and the decision maker to consult if desired. A clear, full and accurate minute of the panel meeting should be made during the meeting, with particular attention given to: (a) recording the documentation considered by panel members; and (b) the questions asked by panel members and the answers given by the social worker(s) present. The social workers attending the panel meeting to present the child's case should be invited to approve the record of the note of the questions asked of and answers given by them at the meeting. The decision to ratify the AAP's decision and to begin the process of applying for placement order must never be a simple rubber stamp; the circumstances in which the decision was taken should be transparent, and the decision itself and the reasons for it minuted. The source and substance of the information given to the decision maker must be clear.