Clause 126 - Rules of procedure

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 17 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 2:45, 17 Ionawr 2002

I understand the intentions behind the amendment. I hope that I will be able to provide the assurances that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham needs, and that he will convey my assurances to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight.

Birth parents are parties to applications for an adoption order. They will be notified that an application for such an order has been lodged with the court, and should have the papers, in accordance with the rules. Where an application to dispense with parental consent to adoption has been made, the statement of facts on which the applicants intend to rely is prepared by the adoption agency and will also be sent to the birth parents.

The schedule 2 reports prepared by the agency in agency cases and by the local authority in non-agency cases, in accordance with adoption rules, are confidential. However, the courts have a discretion to allow birth parents or their legal representatives to see any part of a schedule 2 report prepared by the adoption agency, or Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service reports that refer to that individual, when the circumstances of the individual case make it appropriate.

Birth parents, or any other party to the proceedings, may apply to the court for the disclosure of other information. In such circumstances, the court will decide whether information in the reports needs to be anonymised—I am sorry; I should have said made anonymous—before disclosure to ensure confidentiality. In doing so, it will always take into account the best interests of the child.

This amendment would require court rules to provide for the records used by courts or adoption agencies in adoption and placement proceedings to be sent to the legal representatives of the birth parents. ''Records'' is a wide term, and could include the records kept by the adoption agency in connection with the child, the birth parents and the prospective adopters. In determining whether to disclose information, it is necessary for the court to strike a balance between the interests and rights of the birth parents, and the interests and rights of the adopters and the child. Releasing that information automatically may pose a serious threat to the child's placement with the adopters. It may also discourage more adopters from coming forward to adopt, due to concerns about their rights to privacy.

The practice of disclosing documents to legal representatives only is seen by many solicitors and barristers as unacceptable. It places the lawyers in a difficult position to have information that they may not show their clients. Many lawyers believe that it is

incompatible with their professional duties and will not accept it.

The Government intend to make rules under clause 126 to govern the disclosure of information in placement and adoption proceedings. Those rules will be similar to the current rules but will reflect the differences in the Bill, which we have already debated, and will be consulted on before they are made.

In the light of those assurances and my explanation of why it would be inappropriate to have blanket disclosure in such cases, I hope that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham will feel able to withdraw the amendment.