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Tracing birth parents by Facebook for service in adoption proceedings

Holman J: Facebook is a 'useful tool in the armoury'

In T (A Child) [2017] EWFC 19 Mr Justice Holman was hearing an adoption application in respect of a 4-year old boy in which the birth father was in attendance but the birth mother who is a foreign national and was believed to be, and in fact is, living abroad, had not been served with notice of the proceedings, as required by Part 14 of the FPR 2010

Shortly before the hearing the birth father's partner traced the birth mother by a simple search in the public Facebook website, and in a matter of clicks identified the Facebook address of the birth mother.  She then sent a message through Facebook asking the birth mother for a telephone number on which she rang her. She spoke to her by telephone two days before the hearing. The birth mother had believed that her son had already been adopted.

In the event, Holman J had to abandon the hearing so that the birth mother could be served and given a proper opportunity to participate in the proceedings. However, as for the tracing of the mother, he said:

"I do wish to highlight by this short judgment that, in the modern era, Facebook may well be a route to somebody such as a birth parent whose whereabouts are unknown and who requires to be served with notice of adoption proceedings.  I do not for one moment suggest that Facebook should be the first method used, but it does seem to be a useful tool in the armoury which can certainly be resorted to long before a conclusion is reached that it is impossible to locate the whereabouts of a birth parent.  Of course, not everyone is on Facebook but, in this particular case, a relatively socially disadvantaged young mother in […] has been found very rapidly by that means."

The Cafcass officer involved in the case confirmed that there is no rule or embargo against Cafcass officers seeking to identify the whereabouts of persons for the purpose of proceedings such as this by a Facebook search. On behalf of the Manchester City Council, the local authority involved, counsel also confirmed that there is no prohibition or embargo upon social workers doing a Facebook search of this kind.

Samantha Birtles of 18 St John Street Chambers acted for the local authority. Zimran Samuels of Doughty Street Chambers acted for the birth father.