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Woman gains permission to look at late father’s adoption documents

The request was granted on the grounds that her father, his adoptive parents and his biological mother – the woman’s grandmother – were all assumed to be dead.

The unnamed woman (known as "Y”) made the request only to learn about her family history, rather than to attempt to meet any of her relatives. Had this been the case, she would have been denied.

She knew that her father was born in November 1929 and was adopted two months later under an order made by magistrates in Weston-super-Mare. "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 problem was that under existing law, no legal authority existed to determine whether she should be allowed to see the file in question.

Parliament has been considering whether to extend the rights of adopted children to find out more about their birth family when they reach 18. Sir James Munby, president of the family division of the high court, commented that this was an unusual case and that he was not pre-empting Parliament’s decision. "The public policy of maintaining public confidence in the confidentiality of adoption files is an important consideration… [but] the duration of time that has elapsed since the order was made, and the question of whether any or all of the affected parties are deceased. 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.”

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