The country’s top family judge has warned that moves to speed up adoption could lead to children being removed from their birth parents on flimsy evidence.

President of the Family Division Sir James Munby (pictured) described separating children from their families as a ‘last resort’ but said the current ‘sloppy practice’ meant that often ‘little more than lip service’ is given to other options.

Sitting in the Court of Appeal, he said that where evidence to support an adoption is inadequate, the court must adjourn, even if this means going beyond the 26-week limit that is due to come into force next year under the Children and Families Bill.

‘Where the proposal before the court is for non-consensual adoption, the issues are too grave, the stakes for all are too high, for the outcome to be determined by a rigorous adherence to an inflexible timetable,’ he added.

‘We have real concerns, shared by other judges, about the recurrent inadequacy of the analysis and reasoning put forward in support of the case for adoption, both in the materials put before the court by local authorities and guardians, and also in too many judgments.

‘This is nothing new. But it is time to call a halt.’

Naomi Angell, co-chair of the Law Society’s family law committee, agreed: ‘Adoption is such an extreme order there must be proper evidence provided to the judge, including looking at all other, less drastic, options.’

She said local authorities, guardians and judges must ‘up their game’, because if judges stick rigidly to the 26-week limit in cases where the evidence to support adoption is inadequate, ‘injustice could be done’.

In March Sir James Munby told the Public Bill Committee that temporary care orders should always be resolved in 26 weeks, except for ‘a small group of exceptional cases’.