Clause 96 - Proceedings to be in private

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 4 December 2001.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department) 12:45, 4 December 2001

I shall start by clarifying one point. Hon. Gentlemen raised important questions about the prosecution of an adoption agency, and seemed to feel that the clause would prevent that. The clause deals with the civil courts, whereas the proceedings to which hon. Gentlemen referred would be heard in criminal courts and could not be held in private. I hope that that gives them some reassurance about the cases that were mentioned, because they seemed fearful that there was some attempt to cover up actions being taken against adoption agencies by the National Care Standards Commission. Such actions would be brought in the criminal courts, which do not sit in private.

As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, amendment No. 10 would allow for detailed reports about all adoption cases to be placed in the public domain without identifying details. As has been said, at present reporting can take place on a case-by-case basis, invariably anonymised, only if the court gives permission. Amendment No. 134 would seemingly give the judiciary in the county court discretion to allow all or part of any adoption proceedings to be held in open court, which would mean that anyone could be present, if the judge deemed that to be in the public interest. The intention is that the identity of the child would be protected in all such cases.

There is confusion about two questions. One is who should be in court—whether the proceedings are private or open—and the other is how much of the proceedings should be reported. As Opposition Members have said, and I am sure all my hon. Friends would agree, when cases come before the courts concerning sensitive issues in the context of adoption—we are talking about adoption proceedings, not the prosecution of agencies—it is important to protect the welfare and interests of children. In that context, the Bill provides that only people directly concerned with the case should be present, and the public should not be admitted. Cases involving children are usually conducted in private, to safeguard the welfare of children.

The position on children's cases in England and Wales was challenged in the European Court of Human Rights last November in the cases of P v. UK and B v. UK. The court upheld the UK's position.

As for who should be present in court and what should be reported, we intend the courts to retain their discretion to allow reporting of cases, suitably anonymised, when that is in the public interest. I hope that my comments have met the concerns that led the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham to move amendment No. 134.

On amendment No. 10, there may be some room for improvement—

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.