Children's referendum deficient in many ways
FORTY-SIX years ago (in 1966) three High Court judges adjudicated in a case where a child, born to unmarried parents, was adopted. Subsequently the natural parents married each other and made an application to have their child returned to them, after it was found that the adoption order concerning their child had been invalid.
By this time the child was aged 17 months and had bonded securely with his/her adopted parents and, aside from that, concerns were raised about the capacity of the natural mother to parent the child adequately.
Nevertheless, the court found: “It would be impossible to give effect to the parents’ (constitutional) rights and duty of education, if they are not given custody of the child”, and the only circumstances in which this right and duty could be supplanted were exceptional cases “where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children”. The court ordered the return of the child to the natural parents.
In a 1985 case (JH) in the High Court, the judge, Kevin Lynch, held, after hearing evidence from psychiatrists in a case where the natural parents had married after a child of theirs had been placed for adoption: “I am satisfied there is an appreciable risk of long-term psychological harm to the child by [... a] transfer of custody”. He refused an application for an order to transfer the custody to the natural parents.
The Supreme Court overturned his decision. It found it was not a question of the welfare of the child being the primary concern. “A child of over two years of age, as this infant is, in the dominant or general custody of persons, other than its parents, and continuing in such custody against the wishes of its parents, cannot be said to enjoy the right of education by its family ”.
Most of us would have thought this predominance given to the family, over the welfare of the child, was indefensible and that a constitutional amendment was necessary.
But in a 2006 case, known as the Baby Ann case, Hugh Geoghegan, now retired, delivered a unanimous view of the Supreme Court (the other judges were John Murray, Catherine McGuinness, Adrian Hardiman and Niall Fennelly) which, in my opinion raised a new set of concerns that may require another remedy entirely.
A child was born to university students and subsequently placed for adoption, with caring and devoted would-be adoptive parents. Subsequently the university students married, which meant an adoption could not take place under the present law. The natural parents sought the return of the child.
In the High Court, in this case, three psychologists gave evidence. The High Court judge, John MacMenamin, on hearing the psychologists, thought the balance of evidence was against transferring custody because of the possible psychological damage this would do to the child. All three psychologists, however, agreed that the damage to the child could be mitigated were it possible to have a phased, amicable transfer over a period.