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Accessing Adoption Records in the Scottish Courts

The following information is for assistance only. It is not a replacement for the relevant law.



The History of Adoptions in Scotland

Before 1930 adoptions were arranged on a private basis. This was by individuals or by a charitable adoption agency. No records are held by the courts for these adoptions.

The Adoption of Children (Scotland) Act 1930 introduced a legal basis for adoption in Scotland. Since then, charitable bodies or local authority social work departments (known as “adoption agencies”) have been involved in making arrangements for the adoption of children prior to an application for adoption being made to the civil courts (Court of Session or sheriff court) in Scotland. Adoption orders are now made in civil courts.

Current Procedures, Legislation and Court Rules

The Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 is the legislation which now applies to adoptions. There are also rules of procedure in the courts and these are set out in:

Court of Session:
Chapter 67 of the Court of Session Rules - Applications under the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007

Sheriff Court:
The Act of Sederunt (Sheriff Court Rules Amendment) (Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007) 2009 No. 284

Who holds adoption records?

Adoption records are kept permanently. Records are normally held for around 5 years in the Court of Session and 25 years in the sheriff courts. They are then transferred to the National Records of Scotland.  Older records may still be held by local authorities or adoption agencies.  Most applications for adoption are now processed by sheriff courts. A small number are processed in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

If a child was adopted in Scotland, the adoption records may be held in three places. These are:

  1. The National Records of Scotland. The Registrar General for Scotland has maintained the Adopted Children Register since 1930. It is a register of those adopted under orders made by the Scottish courts. There are no entries relating to those born before October 1909.The National Records of Scotland also store adoption records which have been processed by the courts. These can be found at:

The National Records of Scotland (“NRS”)
Adoption Unit
Room 3
General Register House
2 Princes Street
Edinburgh
EH1 3YY

Website: Adoption Records | National Records of Scotland (nrscotland.gov.uk)

  2. The court that granted the adoption order. It may have records relating to the adoption application. These are often called “the court process”.

  3. The adoption agency that was involved at the time of an adoption. They may be local councils or independent organisations such as:

  • Barnardo's
  • Scottish Adoption
  • St Andrews Children's Society
  • St Margaret's Children and Family Care Society


How can I access my adoption records?

I am the Adopted Child

If you are the adopted child you have the right to access your adoption record once you have reached the age of 16.  You should contact that court to arrange to view the record.  You will need to provide details including your birth name and approximate date of adoption. This will help in finding the record.  Your birth certificate may provide helpful information.  If you're not able to find your birth certificate you can get a copy from the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

You do not need to make a formal application to view your application and you do not need to pay a fee.  Court staff will normally ask you to make your request in writing. You will also be asked to provide proof of identity.

It is a good idea to contact the court in advance.  This will allow you to make arrangements to view your adoption record and arrange a date and time that is best for you.

An appointment will be made to allow you to open the records and view the contents.  Court staff will ensure you have sufficient time to view the contents and make any notes. 

Court adoption records may hold some information which is distressing to applicants. There may also be information which is unexpected, particularly in reports considered by the court. You may wish to consider bringing someone with you for support when attending to view records.

If you live a distance from a sheriff court, or out with Scotland, you may wish to discuss alternative arrangements with court staff.  You may wish to consider nominating a representative from one of the organisations that deal with adoptions in Scotland or an authorised social worker to view the records on your behalf.  You may need to provide this authority in writing and the nominated representative would be required to provide suitable identification. 

If the records are no longer held within the court and have already been transferred to the National Records of Scotland for storage, court staff will make arrangements to retrieve them from the National Records of Scotland to allow you to view them within the court building.

Alternatively, if it is established the National Records of Scotland hold your records you can arrange to view them there.  There is guidance on how to access court adoption records held by the National Records of Scotland here

To access adoption records held by a local authority, or an independent adoption agency, please contact the organisation directly.

I am not the adopted child

If you are not the adopted child but would like to access an adoption record you will need to make an application to the court to allow for the sealed adoption records to be opened for viewing. 

This is because Adoption records are highly confidential.  Adoption papers are placed in sealed envelope or package once granted and can only be opened either by the adopted child once they are 16 years old or by another person with the approval of the court.  Otherwise access is restricted for 100 years, even to court staff. 

If the records are sealed and you would like to request access to them you will need to apply to the court that granted it.  This may require to be a formal application in the sheriff court but you should check with your local court.  The formal application is called a summary application  in the sheriff court.  You will need to apply by petition in the Court of Session.  Within either the application or petition you will need to set out the reasons you want to access the records.  A member of the judiciary will consider the application, the reasons provided and make a decision either to grant or refuse the application.

You will need to pay a fee to make the application.  This is £138 in the sheriff court and £325 in the Court of Session.

You may be able to claim an exemption from paying the court fee. More information is available here under “Fee Exemption”.

 

Please note SCTS staff cannot assist you with making an application.  Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service staff are not legally qualified and therefore cannot provide you with any legal advice.  If you need assistance you may wish to consult a solicitor or contact Citizens Advice Scotland

You may also seek further support from specialist organisations who offer adoption support.  See the mygov.scot website here for a list of organisations who offer support.

Where the application is granted, an appointment will then be made to allow you to open the records and view the contents.    Court staff will ensure you have sufficient time to view the contents and make any notes.  Please note the court may need to retrieve the records from the National Records of Scotland for viewing.  Only an adopted child can view their records in the National Records of Scotland building.

Adoption records may hold some information which is distressing to applicants. There may also be information which is unexpected, particularly in reports considered by the court. You may wish to consider bringing someone with you for support when attending to view records.

If you live a distance from a sheriff court, or out with Scotland, you may wish to discuss alternative arrangements with court staff.  You may wish to consider nominating a representative from one of the organisations that deal with adoptions in Scotland or an authorised social worker to view the records on your behalf.  You may need to provide this authority in writing and the nominated representative would be required to provide suitable identification.

What information is in the court adoption record?

Some adoption records will have more information than others.  The information available will depend on when the adoption order was granted.  This is because the law on adoption has changed since the 1930’s.

The amount of information may depend on whether the application for adoption was opposed or not.

However, you may expect to find some of the following information:

  • Details from the application for authority to adopt.
  • Details from any consent form. There will be no consent form if the legal parent(s) refused to consent to the adoption.

    Adoptees may also see their own signature on the consent to adoption form. This will be included if they had attained a certain age at the time of the adoption. The age will depend on the law at the time of adoption.  For example section 32(1) of the 2007 Act sets out the current age where consent is required.

  • Details from any report prepared by the curator ad litem and reporting officer who are appointed by the court. The curator ad litem and reporting officer can be the same person.A curator ad litem is a legal representative appointed to represent the interests of a person who cannot make decisions for themselves, for example a young child. The reporting officer, usually a social worker or solicitor, will speak to everyone involved in the adoption to make sure they understand what the adoption means for them.

    Sometimes these reports can be brief and may not provide any additional information. However, the report may include details of the adoption agency, a mother and baby home, and a children’s department or social work department.

    The current rules set out the duties of the curator ad litem/ reporting officer. This includes the matters they should report to the court.  These can be read here at paragraph 12.

  • Since 1984 the court records should always include a report prepared by the local authority social work department or the adoption agency which arranged the adoption. Before 1984, most adoption orders in Scotland were granted by the court after reading the papers relating to the adoption. This was done without an actual court hearing. In a number of cases, birth parents were unwilling to sign the consent form, but did not appear in court. If the birth parents opposed the adoption, there would have been a court hearing. Papers relating to this, and the judge’s notes setting out the facts on which they proceeded would be in the court records.


Further support.
Further details on help and support available can be viewed here. 

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Further support.

Further details on help and support available can be viewed here