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Family President makes adoption order in "final chapter" of C-section case

The President of the Family Division has this month made an adoption order for the baby girl at the centre of a high-profile case where the Court of Protection authorised a delivery by Caesarean section.

In P (A Child), Re [2014] EWHC 1146 (Fam) Sir James Munby said the order represented the “final chapter” in the litigation relating to the girl (‘P’) and her Italian mother, Alessandra Pacchieri.

In June 2012 the mother was detained under s. 3 of the Mental Health Act. According to later press reports, she had been attending a training course at Stansted Airport at the time.

P was born on 24 August 2012 after Mr Justice Mostyn authorised delivery by C-section following an application by the North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. The trust made the application because of concerns about risks to the mother and the child.

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Essex County Council applied for an interim care order on the basis that the mother was too unwell to care for the child. It was subsequently revealed that the mother had previously had two other children whom she was unable to care for because of orders made by the Italian authorities.

On 1 February 2013, His Honour Judge Newton in the Chelmsford County Court made a care order and a placement order in respect of P. The mother’s last contact with P was on 22 May 2013.

On 25 October 2013, Judge Newton made an order giving Essex County Council leave to place P for adoption. The following month she was placed with prospective adopters (‘Mr and Mrs X’), with whom she has remained ever since.

The case then received widespread coverage following a Sunday Telegraph article published on 1 December, which was headlined “Child taken from womb by social services”.

On 23 December last year law firm Brendan Fleming wrote to the clerk to the Family President to say that it had been instructed to act for the mother in an appeal, but there had been a delay as a result of funding problems.

Another firm, Dawson Cornwell, had also been instructed by the Italian Government.

On 3 February Mr and Mrs X applied for an adoption order in respect of P. The case was listed before Sir James, who had previously directed that all hearings should be heard by him.

Both the mother and P’s father were sent written notice and subsequently email notice of the hearing date. This warned that a failure to attend might result in an order being made in their absence.

At the 1 April hearing Mr and Mrs X were represented by their solicitor. Social workers from Essex were also present. However, the mother and father were not represented.

The council told the Family President that it had not received correspondence from either Brendan Fleming or Dawson Cornwell since December 2013.

In his ruling, Sir James provided details of various email and phone exchanges between Ms Pacchieri and the county council. In one she said that she prayed every day that her daughter would be fine and that she would see her again. She also expressed the desire to meet Mr and Mrs X.

On 11 December the mother was reported to have told a social worker that she wished her daughter the best and asked how she was doing “with her new family”.

On 12 March, in response to an email from Essex about the 1 April hearing, she said she did not have an advocate and would not be able to attend.

The most recent email from the mother to the council – dated 28 March 2014 – said: “I wish for my daughter the best. Me personally I am trying to forget this bad experience I had in England. I love my daughter with all my heart and I pray to see her one day again.”

The Family President said that as of 1 April 2014 the position remained as it had been on 17 December 2013, when he made a reporting restriction order. “Despite what had been said in the correspondence from Brendan Fleming and Dawson Cornwell in December 2013, no application of any kind had been made on behalf of either the mother or the Italian authorities, whether to the Court of Protection, the Chelmsford County Court or the Family Division, nor had any application been made to the Court of Appeal.”

He added: “In particular, it is to be noted, neither the mother, nor for that matter the father, had made any application in accordance with section 47(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 for leave to oppose the making of an adoption order.”

Sir James said that, in these circumstances, the submission made on behalf of Mr and Mrs X by their solicitor was “simple and compelling”.

This said a confidential report to the court was wholly positive about P’s placement with Mr and Mrs X and it being clear that the mother was fully aware of the hearing and had not indicated any intention to seek leave to oppose the making of the order, the judge should make an adoption order.

The Family President said he had "no hesitation" in doing so and had accordingly made the adoption order on 1 April.

He highlighted two passages in the 70-page confidential report. The first related to the girl: “[P] is not of an age where she can fully express her wishes and feelings; however, through observation it is observed that [P] has a strong and positive bond with both her prospective adoptive parents. There is warmth and care in their relationship which is reciprocated from both prospective adoptive parents and [P]. They are very nurturing towards [P] and show her affection.

“[P] presents as a very happy and content little girl who is very affectionate towards both her prospective adoptive parents. Although she is unable to verbally communicate [P] expresses very cheerful and happy emotions.”

The second passage contained the recommendation of the two social workers who prepared the report. They “warmly and whole heartedly” supported the application by Mr and Mrs X to adopt.

“Having carefully read the report I can only agree,” Sir James said.

The Family President concluded: “Mr and Mrs X are good and loving people. They are admirably equipped to meet P’s needs now and into the future. P is obviously thriving in their care and doing very well.

“In all the circumstances, and having regard to the ‘welfare checklist’ in section 1(4) of the 2002 Act, P’s welfare throughout her life requires – demands – that she be adopted. Nothing else will do.”

At the hearing on 17 December, Sir James said the case stood as a “final, stark and irrefutable demonstration” of the pressing need for radical changes in the way in which both the family courts and the Court of Protection approached transparency.

Sir James said at the time: “We simply cannot go on as hitherto. Many more judgments must be published. And, as this case so very clearly demonstrates, that applies not merely to the judgments of High Court Judges; it applies also to the judgments of Circuit Judges.”

The President had already said: “How can the family justice system blame the media for inaccuracy in the reporting of family cases if for whatever reason none of the relevant information has been put before the public?”

Sir James highlighted how when the story ‘broke’ first on 1 December, none of the relevant information had been put before the public.

 

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