Clause 95 - Appeals

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 4 December 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I wanted to raise a quick point with the Parliamentary Secretary. The clause is short, deals with appeals and needs only a little elucidation. I return to the problems of differential welfare tests. By tagging the Adoption and Children Bill on to the Children Act 1989 for the purposes of appeals in the magistrates court, there could be confusion about which welfare test should be applied unless it is clearly spelled out or the tests are identical.

I refer the Committee to section 22 of the 1989 Act, where it sets out the checklist. We may call it a checklist in the absence of the Minister of State, who was irritated whenever the word was used and then proceeded to use it several times herself. The checklist in the 1989 Act is different from that set out in clause 1. In an earlier deliberation on clause 1, I raised the fact that when arguing appeals, clever lawyers—it is their job to be clever and, I fear, earn their living expensively in many cases—could draw a distinction between the welfare checklist in the 1989 Act and that set out in the Bill. Will the Parliamentary Secretary briefly address that point and tell the Committee whether she envisages the problems that I have raised both now and earlier?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

I should first set out the background to clause 95, so that we know what we are discussing.

The clause applies the provisions relating to appeals in magistrates courts in section 94 of the Children Act 1989 to the Bill, and will ensure consistency in the handling of cases involving children. An appeal against the making of an order by a magistrates court in relation to adoption or placement proceedings shall lie to the High Court. Where a magistrates court has power under the Bill or in rules to decline jurisdiction because it considers that the case can conveniently be dealt with by another court, no appeal may lie against the magistrates court in the exercise of that power.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made a point about the adoption checklist as opposed to the Children Act checklist. It will help to clarify the situation if I assure him that decisions about appeals are not decisions relating to the adoption of a child, but decisions about where an appeal will go. I understand why the hon. Gentleman wanted clarification, but his point was at a slightly different tangent.

The clause aligns the appeal process from magistrates courts orders in placement and adoption proceedings to the existing arrangements for appeals against Children Act orders in the magistrates courts from the making of magistrates courts orders or where magistrates decline jurisdiction.

Consultation on the operation of the system for appeals in family cases was undertaken with key stakeholders last year. The hon. Gentleman may be further reassured if I say that we are in discussions with the senior judiciary on the best way forward. Currently, there is no formal time scale, but we are taking the opportunity with the Bill to ensure consistency in the handling of cases. I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels able to support the clause.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 12:30, 4 December 2001

I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for that response. She is obviously entirely on top of her brief on the clause, and I am happy for us to move on.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 95 ordered to stand part of the Bill.