Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time for a new Adoption Act

The Herald highlights a speech [PDF] yesterday by Acting Principal Family Court Judge Paul von Dadelszen in which he calls for a complete review of the Adoption Act 1955. The Judge points out that the Act was drafted in a different era, where "stranger" adoptions were the norm, adoption was seen as a "clean break" with no contact with birth parents, and only straight married couples were seen as suitable parents. But society has changed significantly since then, and none of these assumptions are true any more. Today, most adoptions are legal confirmations of existing family relationships (e.g. step-parent adoptions), open adoptions are common, and other forms of relationship are generally on an equal footing. The old Act hasn't just failed to keep pace with the times - it violates fundamental legal norms against discrimination, breaching the BORA, Human Rights Act and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in eleven different ways.

Von Dadelszen calls for the Families Commission to conduct a complete review of the Act to bring it into the new millennium, remove discrimination, and allow same-sex, de facto and wider whanau adoption. Somewhat predictably, the Herald focuses on the same-sex angle, ignoring the real issues raised in the rest of the speech (though they do also talk about Kevin Hague's Adoption (Equity) Amendment Bill which is currently in the ballot). But its a bigger issue than that, and Hague's bill, while necessary, would solve only part of the problem. Von Dadelszen is right that the law needs a complete review. But I'm not sure that the Families Commission, with its recent high-profile bigot appointments, is the best body to do it. Over on Red Alert, Lianne Dalziel argues that the job should go to the Law Commission, who have previously looked at law in this area (giving us the Care of Children Act 2004).In the long-term, I think that is the best way to go. In the short-term, however, the need to end discrimination is pressing. If Hague's bill is drawn from the ballot today, then it should be passed. The attitudes behind the Adoption Act are those of the 50's, and its time we moved into the modern era.