Two Slovakian parents have failed to block the adoption of two of their sons by a same sex couple in Kent.
The Catholic couple, who are of Roma origin, argued their two young children would grow up alienated from their family and community. Taking the case to the High Court, they accused the local authority of social engineering by attempting to turn the children white and middle class. An earlier hearing heard evidence they had neglected their children.
In the Matter of J and S concerned two boys, ‘J’, aged four, and ‘S’, who will turn two in July. Their ‘Roma’ parents come from the Slovak Republic. They were brought to West Yorkshire by traffickers and initially lived in “cramped” bed and breakfast accommodation. They later moved to a larger home with help from Hope for Justice, a charity based in Manchester which works with victims of trafficking.
Social services became involved and eventually their five youngest children were made the subject of care proceedings. The local authority applied for care orders for the four youngest, plus an order which would place for the oldest, aged 15, under its supervision for 12 months. In addition, they sought ‘placement orders’ for the two youngest, J and S, putting them in the care of prospective adopters.
The orders were granted by Mrs Justice Theis at a hearing in May last year. The parents then applied for permission to oppose the planned adoptions, making an unsuccessful bid to the European Court of Human Rights. In due course the case came before Sir James Munby at the High Court in London. A scheduled hearing earlier this month was adjourned after scheduled interpreters failed to show up. Their parents’ counsel was acting pro bono. The President said: “This is a very sad case”. Nevertheless, he rejected the parents’ application for leave to oppose the adoption order, under section 47 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This deals with ‘conditions for making adoption orders’. The President said the fact that J and S had been placed for adoption with a same sex couple did not constitute a sufficient change in circumstances to justify an objection by the parents under the Act.
In their witness statement, the parents had declared:
“Our family is a Slovak Roma family and we are practising Catholics and a homosexual couple as potential adopters is very different from what Mrs Justice Theis had in mind in her judgment as this will not promote the children’s Roma heritage or their Catholic faith … Whilst we have no doubt that the prospective adopters have been properly assessed by the Local Authority, they are a homosexual couple and as such their lifestyle goes against our Roma culture and lifestyle. The children will not be able to be brought up in the Catholic faith because of the conflicts between Catholicism and homosexuality. They would not be able to maintain their Catholic faith if they are adopted by this couple and even if it was promised that they would attend church the children would at some stage be taught or learn of the attitude of the church to same sex couples. This would undoubtedly be upsetting to them and cause them to be in conflict between their religion and home life. Slovakia still does not recognise same sex couples and so their Slovak roots and values will not be maintained. In 2013 the Catholic Bishops in Slovakia condemned same sex marriage.”
Mr Justice Munby responded:
“I do not see how this can be described as a change in circumstances. There is nothing in all the material I have seen to suggest that the children’s placement with the prospective adopters was inappropriate or wrong, let alone irrational or unlawful, having regard to the principles that the local authority had to apply…Nor… has it been demonstrated that the placement was of a kind not contemplated by Theis J. On the contrary, Theis J expressly held, as we have seen, that the children’s welfare needs “outweigh” the impact that adoption would have on their Roma identity.”
The President continued:
“Of course, any judge should have a decent respect to the opinions of those who come here from a foreign land, particularly if they have come from another country within the European Union….But the fact is, the law is, that, at the end of the day, I have to judge matters according to the law of England and by reference to the standards of reasonable men and women in contemporary English society. The parents’ views, whether religious, cultural, secular or social, are entitled to respect but cannot be determinative. They have made their life in this country and cannot impose their own views either on the local authority or on the court.”
Sir James Munby also said ‘It was, in my view, unfortunate that the local authority should have referred at one stage in the proceedings to the parents’ views on homosexuality in such a way as to suggest that they are bigoted. The label is unnecessary and hurtful.’ Judge: Yesterday, the country’s most senior family judge, Sir James Munby, upheld the adoption plan, but criticised the social workers for the way they condemned the parents because of their views. His criticism is understood to follow a report submitted to the court by social workers which said: ‘The attitude of the parents could be perceived as bigoted.’
The parents are appealing to the European Court of Human Rights, although it is likely it will take months before their case is heard.
Lucie Boddington, from Děti Patří Rodičům – or Children Belong to Parents – a Slovakian charity which has been supporting the couple, said she hoped the Slovak government would request the case be heard more quickly. She told the BBC the parents were “desperate” and had cried openly when they heard the judge’s decision. “This is I think in some way a cultural misunderstanding,” she said. “In Slovakia, they were a model family – very different from the way some Roma live. The father is hard-working, well-educated; he wanted the best for his children.”
This comes at a time when social workers are under pressure from the Government to abandon rules which have meant that adopted children can be placed only with new families of the same ethnic or cultural background. The doctrine has been blamed for preventing ethnic minority children from being adopted by a stable family, because there are two few people from ethnic minorities are willing to adopt.
“We are absolutely committed to improving the quality of service and we need to have social workers who are progressive, enthusiastic, enabling, empowering, practical and frankly just able to do the job well,” says Mairead MacNeil, director of specialist children’s services at Kent county council. “I believe we have got a good core of social workers who can; we just need to build on that.”
A recent Ofsted report following an inspection rated the council’s looked after children services as “adequate”, with “good” capacity to improve. In 2010, the same services had been judged “inadequate”.
In June 2013 Kent County Council Came under criticism in a report by the Local Government Ombudsman, after it failed to provide proper support to an abandoned boy.
According to ‘Pink News’ The head of the High Court’s Family Division, Lord Justice James Munby, is a strong supporter of equality for gay people.
In November 2013 he gave a shocking address in which he said happily judges no longer promote virtue and morality or discourage vice and immorality’. In particular Judge Munby publicly repudiates Christianity and Christian morality, and welcomes the legalisation of abortion, gay sex and adultery.
In a speech in London, Sir James Munby said judges ‘happily’ no longer had a role in enforcing morality, unlike in the past when they routinely condemned homosexuality, adultery and promoted Victorian social attitudes. ‘Once upon a time, the perceived function of the judges was to promote virtue and discourage vice and immorality,’ he said. ‘I doubt one would now hear that from the judicial bench. Today, surely, the judicial task is to assess matters by the standards of reasonable men and women in 2013 – not by the standards of their parents in 1970.’
Sir James said that Victorian judges promoted ‘virtue and morality’ while discouraging ‘vice and immorality’ with a ‘very narrow view of sexual morality’. He cited laws banning gay sex and abortion and rulings that condemned women for adultery. He added that the influence of Christian churches in the courts had also disappeared in recent years.
He said: ‘Happily for us, the days are past when the business of judges was the enforcement of morals or religious beliefs.’ He said that modern-day judges had rightly abandoned any claim to be ‘guardians of public morality’, just as Christian clerics no longer claimed to speak as the ‘defining voices of morality and of the law of marriage and the family. Today, we live in a largely secular society which, insofar as it remains religious at all, is now increasingly diverse in religious affiliation.’ he said. ‘Although, historically, this country is part of the Christian West and although it has an established church which is Christian, we sit as secular judges serving a multi-cultural community of many faiths, sworn to do justice “to all manner of people”. We live in this country in a democratic and pluralistic society, in a secular state not a theocracy. All are entitled to respect, so long as they are “legally and socially acceptable” and not “immoral or socially obnoxious” or “pernicious”.’ he said.
He also said courts would overrule parents’ religious beliefs if it was in their child’s best interests, such as if a child of Jehovah’s Witnesses needed a blood transfusion. ‘We live in a largely secular society which, insofar as it remains religious at all, is now increasingly diverse in religious affiliation,’ he added.
He said a believer’s faith was not the ‘business of government or of the secular courts’, ‘although, of course, the courts will pay every respect to the individual’s or family’s religious principles’.
In 2007 he was the presiding judge at a landmark case that ruled that a Christian couple should be banned from fostering children because of their views on homosexuality. At the time, making his judgement he said: “The equality provisions concerning sexual orientation should take precedence over religious beliefs”.