President of the Family Division gives final judgement on Somerset case

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The President of the Family Division has today (13 April 2022) handed down judgement in the latest, and final, instalment of the Somerset case. It is available here.

In November 2021 Mrs Justice Roberts made declarations in respect of ten children awaiting placement for adoption. She declared in each case that the placement orders were lawfully made despite breaches of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 relating to the medical adviser’s role in the Child’s Permanence Report.

Somerset County Council brought further applications in respect of the next cohort of children, who were already in adoptive placements. It had become clear, not least from information gathered from CoramBAAF members, that the issue was not confined to Somerset and that the placements of many hundreds of children across the country were potentially affected. The applications were therefore transferred to the President and heard on 4 March 2021.

The President dismissed Somerset’s applications, finding that applications under the Family Proceedings Rules 2010, Part 18, were not appropriate and that no other local authorities would need to make applications if placement orders have been made in similar circumstances. Placement orders will be valid and enforceable unless and until a court sets them aside.The President accepted that it is difficult to envisage a case where a child’s health issues are significant factors in the decision to grant a placement order but that the court is not aware of them in the proceedings. It is therefore unlikely that an agency’s failure to comply with the Regulations will have led to a decision by the court that is vulnerable to appeal. Similarly, an application to revoke a placement order is unlikely to be justified on health grounds as any significant health issues would have been known to the court in the original proceedings.

The President went on to give guidance for the approach to be taken by agencies and courts in other cases where the Regulations have not been complied with. CoramBAAF has produced an advice note based on this judgement.

CoramBAAF would like to thank all those members who responded to our short-notice request for information. The response provided evidence of the scale of the problem and its impact which was not available from other sources and we were able to inform the court and parties accordingly.