6. Disclosure of Information About a Person's Adoption Clauses 53 - 62 and 76

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 20 November 2001.

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We have very serious concerns about these clauses as currently drafted. Not only are they enormously complex but they establish an extremely prescriptive framework which is likely to prove unhelpful in practice. Restrictions on disclosure of information are, for the first time, supported by a criminal sanction imposed on voluntary adoption agencies which disclose information contrary to the regulations made under these provisions. Most seriously of all, in our view, the provisions in clause 58 would make it impossible for adoption agencies to disclose to an adopted adult the information needed to enable him or her to obtain a copy of their original birth certificate if the birth parent had made an objection to the disclosure of this information, thus reversing the right introduced in the Children Act 1975 for an adopted adult to obtain their original birth certificate. The denial of this right would also deny the adopted person the opportunity to have their name entered on the Adoption Contact Register (clause 77) indicating.

It would not be putting it too strongly to say that there is consternation among BAAF's member agencies and others at this proposed change. Although the PIU report pointed to inconsistencies between agencies in the provision of information, there was never any suggestion that the law should be amended to restrict access to birth record information for adopted adults. It is almost exactly 26 years since the law was changed in England and Wales to give adopted adults the right to obtain their original birth certificate. That change was introduced following widespread consultation and debate, and although during the parliamentary debate on the proposals concerns were expressed that birth parents would suffer distress and embarrassment if their adopted children suddenly approached them, in practice these fears have not been realised. Not only have adopted people who have taken advantage of the right to obtain information greatly valued this, but there is no clear evidence that parents have in fact been disturbed or upset even when approached for direct contact by their adopted child. The majority in fact have welcomed such an approach, although it is of course preferable for any approach to be made through an intermediary.

In the light of this it is somewhat hard to understand what has led to the inclusion on the new provisions in the Bill. It may be that these provisions arise out of an attempt to fit these disclosure arrangements into the framework of the Data Protection Act. This of course in principle allows individuals to see information about themselves held by public bodies and restricts disclosure of information to third parties. In certain circumstances it does permit the disclosure of third party information or, by preference, the disclosure of information without disclosing the identity of the third party to whom it relates. The difficulty is that this framework is not well suited to family relationships. The birth of a child is not information belonging only to the child, the mother, or the father. The law requires the birth to be registered in a statutory register to which the public have access, and most people are entitled to obtain a certified copy of the register entry relating to their own birth. An adopted person cannot obtain his or her original birth certificate without knowledge of his or her original name. The Children Act 1975 ensured that such information could be available to any adopted person who sought it. What is now proposed will disadvantage those (it may well be only a small number) whose parents choose to deny them the right to obtain the information.

BAAF strongly recommends that the right of adopted adults to have access to their original birth certificates should be retained.