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Cobb J prevents local authority from removing child from prospective adopter who lost her sight

Relief granted under sections 6 and 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998

Mr Justice Cobb has granted an application for injunctive relief under section 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998 to prevent a local authority from removing a child from a prospective adopter because the prospective adopter had lost her sight after an operation.

In RCW v A Local Authority [2013] EWHC 235 (Fam) the court heard that the child, SB, had been placed with the prospective adopter, RCW, under a placement order in October 2012 by the local authority, LBX. SB was born prematurely, weighing just 1kg. She had been abandoned by her mother at birth. SB spent 3 months in hospital with specialist nursing care before being discharged into foster care. SB was matched with RCW for the purposes of adoption. It was known by LBX that RCW was a single woman with a full-time career. On that basis the placement was made and it was extremely successful, by all accounts.

RCW began experiencing problems with her vision and it was found that she had a brain tumour and required immediate surgery.

By 4th January 2013 SB had been with RCW for 10 weeks, therefore RCW was able to make an application for adoption. However, on that day RCW went into hospital.

RCW had made detailed plans for SB's care during her stay in hospital which lasted three weeks.

After the operation RCW found that she had lost her vision. RCW and SB continued to be cared for by RCW's friends, with RCW involved in feeding and cuddling SB. RCW lives in the area of the local authority LBY. LBY have offered support to RCW but no support package has been agreed with LBY and LBX as yet.

On 4th February RCW's solicitor lodged an adoption application with the court. On the same day LBX wrote to RCW informing her of their intention to remove SB from her care. RCW made an application for injunctive relief before Cobb J.

Section 35(5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 provides that if an application for adoption has been made before notice (in writing) by the adoption agency to remove the child has been given, then "[p]rospective adopters are not required by virtue of the notice to return the child to the agency unless the court so orders."

The claim was also brought under section 6 and 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Section 6 renders it unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right and section 7 enables a person to bring proceedings against a public authority or rely on a Convention right if that person would be a victim of the public authority's unlawful act.

Cobb J granted RCW's application, saying:

"Visual impairment does not of itself disqualify an adult from being a capable loving parent. In my judgment, the ability for RCW to provide good emotional care for SB (probably with support) needs to be properly assessed. It was not fairly assessed on 24 January 2013 when the social worker visited RCW's home.

"I stop short of finding that the assumptions which the authority has made about parenting by a carer who is blind are discriminatory, but in ruling RCW out as a prospective carer so summarily, LBX has shown a worrying lack of enquiry into the condition or the potential for good care offered by a visually impaired parent."

Cobb J was critical about the lack of any support from LBX for RCW and SB before they decided to remove SB.

For the judgment and a fuller summary by Akta Chipalkatty of 7 Bell Yard Chambers, please click here.