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Another Victorian case that made headlines in the mid-50’s was when adoption legislation was enacted before prescribed consent documents were publicly available. A serious administrative error that a judge described as ‘“ … someone asleep behind the wheel”’.

The amendment was proclaimed on 1 February 1955 and it allowed 30 days for consent to be rescinded, whereas previously the consent could be rescinded up to the time the Court order for adoption was made.

The reason for this prescribed period was that children were often placed out as foster children to couples who later adopted, and this 30-day period gave the adopting couple some certainty and overcame problems such as that revealed by the Murray vs. Mace case. Especially as fostering could occur for some time before the administrative work was completed to formalise an adoption.

So, after 1 February 1955, consent was dependent on the correct forms being be used or a consent was not valid. However, due to a problem with printing the stationery, the prescribed forms were not available until March 22, a period of about six weeks.

Unfortunately for the lax legislators, a Canterbury butcher wanted to negate his consent and said that this was possible as it was not given on the prescribed form, although it was given within the six week period. The butcher wanted his daughter back from an adopter who refused to give her up. And the newspapers had a feast.


A habeas corpus writ was issued and the butcher regained his daughter. An embarrassment for the government of the time, and the Courts and lawyers in general, and although further legislation was quickly enacted that tidied this anomaly, the case led to more careful drafting, scrutiny and control of future adoption legislation. Adoption is an area of law that is extremely sensitive to media attention and public concern, and the political ramifications were evident in these early cases.

 

Another Victorian case that made headlines in the mid-50’s was when adoption legislation was enacted before prescribed consent documents were publicly available.