Adoption and access to family history

Should family members of adopted children be allowed access to the court file and family history?

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division recently in the case of X Adopted Child: Access to court file [2014] EWFC 33 set out the following;

  1. The Court has a discretion whether to disclose information contained in its own file to the applicant.
  2.  In considering whether or not to exercise this discretion the Court should have regard to all circumstances of the case and should exercise its discretion justly.
  3.  The public policy of maintaining public confidence in the confidentiality of adoption files is an important consideration.
  4.  The duration of time that has elapsed since the adoption order was made, and the question of whether any or all of the affected parties are deceased, are important considerations.
  5.  The nature of the connection between the applicants with the information sought from the Court file is an important consideration.
  6.  The potential impact of disclosure on any relevant third parties, and any safeguards that could be put in place to mitigate this, is an important consideration.

Munby, J granted the application made by Y to access X’s court files even though he did not deem this case to have ‘exceptional circumstances’. He said that Y’s reasons for wanting access to this information were entirely ‘genuine and understandable’. Additionally, the Judge identified that all of the parties from the original proceedings were deceased including X’s birth mother therefore the issue of confidentiality was inconsequential in this case.

The rules on sharing such information are being changed by the government to come into effect from November 2014. The relatives of adopted people will have more rights to find out about their birth family, so they can find out information such as inherited medical conditions.

Relatives wanting to gather such information would use an intermediary adoption agency.

The Families minister Edward Timpson said it was a “positive change”. A Department for Education spokeswoman said that the rule changes were about balancing the right of descendants of adopted people to know about their family history with the right to privacy for individuals.

It will mean that blood relatives of someone who has been adopted can ask for information about previous generations of their family, either living or dead. This could reveal useful information such as genetic medical conditions or patterns of health risks, such as heart problems or types of cancer.

If you or your family are involved in Family or Care Proceedings and you require some legal advice around this or adoption issues then please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Care or Family team on 0116 255 4855.