Sir James Munby, head of the Family Division, has given permission for a woman to see court files relating to her father’s adoption 84 years ago, in a decision which establishes a new principle on the disclosure of files. 

The woman’s father, X, was born on 5 November 1929. On 15 January 1930 justices sitting in the Petty Sessional Division of Weston-super-Mare made an adoption order under the Adoption Act 1926 that he be adopted by Mr and Mrs C. Mr and Mrs C are dead and X died in 2011.

X’s daughter, known only as Y, made an application to see the original court file in relation to the adoption so she could find out about her father’s mother.

Sitting in Bristol, the president of the Family Division said the case raises a ‘simple question of considerable general importance, to which the answer is not at first sight at all clear’.

‘The question, on which almost astonishingly there is no direct authority, is what principles should govern the determination [of whether adoption files should be disclosed],’ he said.

Parliament is in the process of consulting on opening up adoption files to adoptees when they reach the age of 18.

Y represented herself throughout the proceedings as she could not afford legal representation, but the Official Solicitor appointed an advocate to assist the court.

In her original application to the court, Y said: ‘My grandmother… is certainly dead by now, so I will not harm anyone by knowing her name. I will not be trying to contact her relatives or causing any trouble. I just want to know who my dad was, who his mother was, where he was born, and who I am, my sister, my brother, my children and grandchildren.’

The original court file includes the name, address and occupation of Y’s grandmother, her father X’s birth certificate, giving his name and place of birth. The space for the details of X’s father are blank.

Stressing that he did not ‘seek to encroach’ on the parliamentary process, Munby ruled that Y could see the file and copy its contents. He said: ‘I do not think it appropriate, let alone necessary, to impose any conditions or restrictions on Y’s use of the documents. I am content to leave that to her good sense and discretion.’

In reaching the decision he highlighted the fact that X, Mr and Mrs C and in all probability X’s birth mother, are all dead, the fact that Y is X’s daughter and the fact that the adoption was 84 years ago.

He said: ‘I find 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’.

Read the full judgment