A Local Authority v JK & W (Non-notification) [2021] EWHC 33 (Fam)

These proceedings concerned W, a 10-month-old child, born on 19 February 2020. Three days prior to his birth, his mother (M) notified the local authority that she intended to relinquish W for adoption and that she did not want the father, or any member of the wider families to be told of the birth or adoption proceedings. On 3 September the local authority applied for an order, under FPR Part 19 and rule 14.21, endorsing its decision not to disclose W’s existence to his father, and an order to the same effect in relation to non-notification to the maternal grandparents. The Child’s Guardian opposed the application.

In dismissing the application, Peel J set out a number of “lessons for the future in non-notification cases” [48-54]. Peel J was highly critical of the “utterly unacceptable delay” [43] in making the application 7 months after birth, comparing it to the judgment in A, B and C [2020] EWCA Civ 41  In that case the Court of Appeal emphasised the urgency required in making a part 19 or Rule 14.21 application and concluded that an application made after 4 months was “belated” [48]. Further, Jackson LJ stated at paragraph 86 of A, B and C that decisions relating to non-notification should be taken “at a very early stage.” In the current case Peel J stressed that a “Local Authority should ensure that it explains carefully and sensitively, to a mother every stage”, of the non-notification procedure, “setting out the competing factors and considerations” [48].

At paragraph 22, Peel J included a summary, from A, B and C [86-88], of such principles which the local authority should “closely adhere to” when making decision as to whether a putative father or relative should be informed of a child’s existence. It was stated that while the welfare of the child is an important factor, it was not the “paramount consideration” and other factors such as the likelihood of a family placement being realistic alternative to adoption and Article 8 rights had to be considered.  It was stressed that where there is a “family life” under article 8 “the maintenance of confidentiality is…highly exceptional” [22].

For the full judgment click here.