This week, the President of the Family Division has issued Guidance on arrangements for adoption visits.
I expect it may come as a surprise to many people that as part of our judiciary we have a President, but we do and Sir James Munby is the current President but will be retiring at the end of the week. He has provided distinguished leadership and guidance throughout his term and has issued many practice directions that have given directive advice on good practice. He has visited all family Courts, spoken throughout to hundreds of Judges, Solicitors, barristers and Court users. He has chaired and been a part of many focus groups and championed the voice of children in proceedings.
The Latest guidance from the President came today as Sir James Munby is troubled by indications that Guidance in relation to the arrangements for adoption visits is not always followed.
In particular, the President has commented:
“It is expected that any adoption visit(s) shall take place outside normal court sitting hours. They shall not be listed or referred to in the daily court list.”
The President states that:
“It is vital that judges and HMCTS staff do everything possible to separate adoption visits from other proceedings, both in terms of the timing and, wherever possible, by arranging for them to be dealt with in separate parts of the building. This will often require careful planning, but it must be done. We owe the families nothing less.”
Not all countries have adoption or formalized arrangements for gaining legal rights over a child not born to you, but we do in the UK. It is also possible in this country for some children to be removed from birth families and adopted outside of the family with the Court dispensing with the birth parent/s consent, but this is not as common as many people think despite what you may read in the popular press.
Adoption work is sometimes complex. When it becomes complex and advice and legal representation is needed it is best given by practitioners who are properly accredited and don’t dabble in areas of Law in which they have no specialist training or experience. You should look for a Solicitor who is a Children Panel member and a list of current membership is available on the Law Society website. Adoption can be relatively straightforward but sometimes can become highly complex. If rules and procedures are broken in certain circumstances, there can even be criminal penalties.
Once a Court is ready to make an adoption order a hearing will be convened which is generally referred to as a celebration. Family and friends can be brought to Court to join in the celebration and the child/ren are of course there as the child/ren in questions presence is expected and required in almost all circumstances.
Sir James has given this advice to ensure that Courts follow the good practice guidance already in existence. The conclusion of a court process that changes the status of a child in law and give rights and responsibilities to adopters is something that adopters will often want to mark with celebration and becomes an important milestone in a person’s life story so great care and forethought is given by most Judges to these hearings and I am happy to say in my experience this guidance is followed in the local Courts. As lawyers we don’t normally attend celebration hearings. I have been invited by families occasionally to do so and it was such an honour to be able to. I discovered also that some card shops stock congratulations on your Adoption!
Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement Sir James (My Lord) no doubt your retirement plans won’t be to actually sit on a deck chair on Southend seafront with an ice cream, but you would be very welcome here as a champion of children’s welfare should you visit.
Partner, Head of Family Law (Child Law Panel Member)
Higher Rights of Audience Crime and Civil
Stella is in addition an assessor for the Law Society for applicants/re-accreditations for the Child Law Panel)