Rethink over South Yorkshire baby’s future

High Court in London: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
High Court in London: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
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The Court of Appeal has overturned a Rotherham Council-backed decision to take a baby boy away from his heartbroken teenage parents.

The little boy was just eight months old in August last year when a family judge in Sheffield ruled that he should be separated from his natural parents and placed for adoption.

Deputy Judge Barber had wrongly accepted Rotherham Council’s arguments that freeing him for adoption was in his best interests because of his parents’ circumstances.

The boy’s mother had a troubled background and was 16 when she gave birth to him, while his father was only three years older.

Neither parent can be identified for legal reasons.

Social workers pointed to alleged domestic violence and the father’s use of cannabis, saying that allowing the couple to keep their baby ‘was not a viable option’.

However, Court of Appeal Judge Lord Justice McFarlane observed the mother was herself still a child.

It was not a case in which any concerns had been raised about drug or alcohol addiction or sexual abuse, he said.

The ‘very young parents’ had, from time to time, ‘behaved in an immature and irresponsible manner.’

But he said: “It is hard to conceive of any young person who does not at some time fall short of the mark in that regard.”

The judge, sitting with Lords Justice Vos and Aikens, overturned the Sheffield family judge’s decision and ordered an urgent re-hearing of all issues concerning the little boy’s future care.

Lord Justice Vos said he was ‘rather shocked’ by the council’s assumption that adoption was the only option.

And Lord Justice McFarlane described the decision as ‘by a wide margin, wholly inadequate.’

‘Devoid of detail’, Deputy Judge Barber was said to have regurgitated large parts of the council’s case and failed to evaluate the important issues.

Lord Justice McFarlane said at a hearing in the Court of Appeal: “In many respects it has proved impossible to detect the process of analysis undertaken by the judge.

“That this is so is, in one sense, wholly disastrous for the young child at the centre of the proceedings.

“He was entitled to have his future determined by a proper process.”

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