A High Court Judge decided on 18th October that a couple may keep a baby despite tests showing she is not theirs. The Judge, Mr Justice Coleridge, was faced with a truly peculiar situation. A mother and father who live in London had tried to have a child through IVF. When that was unsuccessful, they travelled to Nigeria, where the woman received fertility treatment at a private clinic.
She returned to the clinic months later and was sedated. When she regained consciousness, she was handed a baby to whom she was told she had given birth. The couple then returned to England with theChild they believed was their new daughter. On their return, a GP raised concerns. Social Services became involved and the child was taken into care. Genetic tests showed the baby to be unrelated to the couple. Social Services maintained that the couples’ story was a “charade” and that they were “knowing and willing participants” in a child trafficking scheme.Mr Justice Coleridge disagreed. Describing the case generally as “extraordinary, bizarre and worrying”, he was satisfied that the man and woman were the victims of the “most appalling scam”. He took the view that they were “people of the highest calibre and of complete integrity”. He said he was “deeply impressed by their humanity”. Having decided that the couple were innocent victims, his Lordship made an order providing for the child to live with them. Social Services agreed to deliver the little girl to their care within seven days. None of the parties may be named for legal reasons, to preserve their anonymity. This includes the Social Services Department involved, which is said to be “disappointed” with the judgment.
I struggle to understand why Social Services ought to be disappointed by the Judge’s decision. Entirely properly, they brought their concerns about this child’s care to the court’s attention. Having done so, the responsibility became the Judge’s to oversee the investigation and to decide what had in fact occurred. It was for the court, and not the local authority, to decide whether the allegations are well founded.For Social Services to be expressing disappointment rather suggests they had formed their own, different, conclusion about what had happened. The dangers of Social Services overstepping their remit will be well-recognised by legal advisers dealing with Children and Families. Many will have had experience of Social Workers proceeding on the basis that they – and not the Judge – are charged with deciding what has happened and what the outcome should be.
The proper operation of the Family Justice System requires the various participants to understand their respective roles and functions and to discharge them faithfully without trespassing on what is properly the job of others.
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