The role of Facebook in locating a birth parent in adoption proceedings

Zimran Samuel was commended in the High Court in the case of T (A Child) [2017] EWFC 19.

Mr Justice Holman stated that he was ‘indebted to Mr Zimran Samuel, counsel who appears on behalf of the father who....who generously agreed to act’.

Mr Justice Holman gave judgment on the role of Facebook in locating a birth parent in adoption proceedings.

He had been asked to decide whether a four-year-old boy should be placed for adoption and was concerned to make sure that the youngster's natural mother was aware of the proceedings.

The child was placed into the care of Manchester City Council in December 2015 after the living arrangements of his parents broke down.

The Manchester City Council told the court that the child’s mother had not been located as she could not be found.

Holman J said it was ‘deeply regrettable’ that a final adoption application hearing had proceeded without the mother even knowing it was happening.

Mr Zimran Samuel representing the child's father had said she had been traced a few days before a hearing. Mr Samuel said the child's father's new partner had found her by doing a "very simple search of a public Facebook website". 

The judge stated:

‘‘During the course of today, Mr Samuel himself has now twice spoken on the telephone to the birth mother in [X] and established from her a clear postal address and also an email address at which she can be communicated.  The father’s partner says, and has now given sworn evidence to this effect, that the manner in which she first made contact with the birth mother was through Facebook.  She says that neither she nor the father had any line of communication with the mother, but that last Sunday she did a very simple search into the public Facebook website, and in a matter of clicks identified the Facebook address of the birth mother.  She then sent a message through Facebook asking the birth mother for a telephone number on which she rang her’’.

Holman J ruled that:

"In the modern era, Facebook may well be a route to somebody such as a birth parent whose whereabouts are unknown and who requires to be served with notice of adoption proceedings," said Mr Justice Holman in a ruling on the case. "I do not for one moment suggest that Facebook should be the first method used, but it does seem to be a useful tool in the armoury which can certainly be resorted to long before a conclusion is reached that it is impossible to locate the whereabouts of a birth parent."

The judge also ruled:

‘‘Quite frankly, the fundamental importance of service of an application for an adoption order upon a natural parent has been understood by all those practising in this field throughout my own professional lifetime,’ he said. ‘Frankly, there has been almost total disregard of all the rules in the present case.’’

The judge said it was ‘‘very depressing’’ that despite statutory and rule changes, the difficulty of service upon birth parents remained as they were when he began in practice 45 years ago.

The judge added: "Of course, not everyone is on Facebook but, in this particular case, a relatively socially disadvantaged young mother has been found very rapidly by that means." He said the case had been adjourned to give the little boy's mother time to consider her position. The youngster had been taken into council care more than a year ago and was living with a foster carer. Mr Justice Holman said he had analysed the case at a family court hearing in Manchester and the little boy was in the care of Manchester City Council.

The full judgment is available here.

Articles are available in the Law GazetteFamily Law Week; and Yorkshire Post.