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In re X (Adopted Child: Access to Court File) [FC]
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1 User Commentary

Melanie Davidson (In-house lawyer) 24 September 2015

Case Commentary

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What principles should govern the determination of an application for permission to view adoption files from someone other than the adoptee?

Sir James Munby handed down judgment in the matter of X (Adopted Child: Access to Court File) [2014] EWFC 33 on 9th September 2014.


Y made an application to look at X’s (her late father's) court files regarding his adoption. X was born in 1929 and was adopted months later under an order made by magistrates. X’s adoptive parents are both dead.

The only significant information Y would obtain if given access to the court file is (a) the name, address and occupation of X’s birth mother (and the name and address of her mother) and (b) the letter from X’s grandmother.

No legal authority existed to determine whether Y should be allowed to see the court file.


A variety of statutory regimes apply to the disclosure of adoption records and adoption orders. Where the person is a descendant of the adopted person, there are only two statutory routes available. One is in accordance with section 79(4) of the Adoption and Children 2002 Act. The other is in accordance with Family Procedure Rules 2010 rule 14.24.

Where, as in the instant case, the adoption order was made not under the 2002 Act but under one of its predecessors, the matter is regulated by rule 53(4) of the Adoption Rules 1984, SI 1984/265, or rule 32(6) of the Magistrates’ Courts (Adoption) Rules 1984, SI 1984/611.

Although there are a few minor differences of language, the substance of the 1984 rules correspond precisely to the substance of FPR 2010 rule. In each case the court is given power, exercisable in the particular case, to permit the opening to inspection or provision of copies of any “document or order” held by the court.

Munby made reference to the case of Gunn-Russo, [2001] EWHC Admin 566 and the discussion therein that “The issue will often be how to resolve the tension between on the one hand maintaining the confidentiality under which the information was originally supplied and on the other providing the information that the adopted person has a real desire, and often need, to have”.

Munby did not address the "exceptional" nature of the facts as Roderic Wood J had done in FL v Registrar General, [2010] EWHC 3520 (Fam) considering section 79(4), as the real question was whether he should grant Y the relief she sought under the predecessor of rule 14.24 rather than a question of exceptionality.

In applying rule 14.24 (or rather its relevant statutory predecessor) in accordance with the law and in the light of all the relevant circumstances of this particular case he concluded that, in all the circumstances and applying the principles he had identified, he should grant Y the relief she sought.

The reasons he gave included the limited contents of the court file, the fact that X, Mr and Mrs C and in all probability X’s birth mother are all dead, the fact that X was adopted over 84 years ago and the fact that Y is X’s daughter. Munby further reasoned that Y’s reasons for wanting access to this information are entirely genuine and understandable and that any upset that might be caused to any of X’s birth mother’s surviving relatives is no more than speculative.


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