Local councils that achieve high levels of adoption are rewarded by increased funding, and this is widely thought to affect their adoption policies.

The Court of Appeal recently criticised East Sussex County Council over its approach when it proceeded with the adoption of a baby girl against the wishes of the girl’s father.

The child was born after a casual affair and her father did not even know he had a child until the Council contacted him to tell him that care proceedings had been commenced, which was some time after the baby’s mother had abandoned her in a special care unit.

The father was initially unable to take part in the proceedings since he was in hospital after suffering a heart attack. When he had recovered sufficiently, he went to see his solicitors, who attempted to stop the adoption proceedings. The Council ignored his intervention and placed the baby with the prospective adoptive parents before his case could be brought to court.

After an earlier reversal in court, the father took his case to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the Council’s action was a breach of his human right to have a family life. The Court considered that the common belief that councils have a ‘secret agenda’ to place as many children as possible for adoption fuelled ‘public distrust in the good faith of public authority’. However, the Court refused the appeal on the ground that the 2002 Adoption and Children Act is compatible with human rights law. The Council had complied with the Act so the father’s action failed.

The Court took the unusual step of ordering that copies of the judgment be sent to all family judges and all adoption agencies, stressing that the wishes of both parents had to be taken into account in adoption proceedings. The Court advised that it wishes to ensure that the conduct of the Council in this case is not repeated elsewhere.