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Adoption process 'too grave' to be speedy, says judge

President of family division says "sloppy practice" must improve

18 September 2013

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Adoption cases cannot be sped up when based on flimsy evidence, the president of the Family Division has said.

Sir James Munby said yesterday that "sloppy practice" by social services in adoption processes meant the impending 26-week timetable must be ignored.

Sitting in the Court of Appeal, the leading family court judge said that where adoption was mooted and inadequate evidence was submitted to the court then it must adjourn, even if this meant going beyond 26 weeks.

"Where the proposal before the court is for non-consensual adoption, the issues are too grave, the stakes for all are too high, for the outcome to be determined by a rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable," said Munby.

"We have real concerns, shared by other judges, about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption, both in the materials put before the court by local authorities and guardians and also in too many judgments."

These concerns were "nothing new" said the judge, but after four cases during ten days in July alone in which judges expressed concerns about inadequate analysis he said it was "time to call a halt".

Ruling in Re B-S in the Court of Appeal, the judge said that all too often social services give "scant attention" or afford "little more than lip service" to keeping a child with its family.

In Re B-S, a mother was appealing the adoption of her two children, who were removed from her care in February 2011. Contact between them ceased in December 2011 and the children were placed with prospective adopters in April 2012. An application was made for adoption in May of this year, the mother appealing that there had been "an astonishing change in circumstances" since making the care order.

The court dismissed her appeal, ruling that the children's placement was in their best interests as they had already formed emotional attachments to their adopters.

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