11 Sep

Applying for Surrogacy – The Role of the High Court

The contents of this article refer to the case Parte WH and Others (2011) (6) SA 514 (GNP)

The agreement between a surrogate mother and the parents who are requesting this “service” (they are also called the “commissioning parents”) must be confirmed by the High Court, as it is a contract of a special kind, even “unique” if you think about the subject matter. When the surrogacy agreement is concluded, it should be remembered that the consequences which may follow could have far-reaching, and sometimes unintended, consequences.

What is often at stake is not only the physical well-being of the surrogate mother and the child to be born, but also the psychological consequences which may follow when the child is born and is to be handed over by the surrogate mother to the commissioning parents.

The High Court has a vital role to play in the confirmation of the agreement. On the one hand, it is directed to advance the spirit and the objectives of the Children’s Act, without creating or placing additional obstacles in the path of those applying to validate the agreement. On the other hand, however, the Court is the “upper guardian” of all minor children, so it cannot simply be a rubber stamp validating the private arrangements between contracting parties.

The Court’s role, therefore, must ensure that both the formal and the substantive (or practical) requirements of the Act are complied with. Invariably, applications of the kind contemplated by the Act are brought on an ex parte* basis and so the Court is invariably dependent upon the information placed before it by the Applicants. The utmost good faith is therefore expected and required of both the surrogate mother and the commissioning parents.

In satisfying itself that the absolute requirements of the Act have been met, the Court must be given sufficient information to support any of the conclusions that the applicants contend for. For example, where an applicant seeks to draw certain conclusions with regard to financial or emotional matters, or even general suitability as a parent, there should be facts to support such conclusions which a Court can interrogate. What this means, ultimately, is that the Court must be satisfied that the conclusions arrived at, are supported by facts. Accordingly vague and generic allegations in this regard that fall short of supporting a conclusion, may well render an application defective.

It would also follow, where such an application is brought on the basis of urgency, the proper grounds for urgency should be clearly set out in the papers as contemplated in Rule 6 (12) (b) of the Uniform Rules of Court.

When the High Court hears a surrogacy application and performs its judicial discretion, it may request any additional information from the parties (or any other institution), to assist it in the determination of the application.

The affidavit accompanying the application should contain the following:

  1. All factors as set out in the Act, together with documentary proof where applicable.
  2. Whether there have been any previous applications for surrogacy; the division in which the application was brought, whether such an application was granted and/or refused. If it was refused, the reasons for the refusal should be set out.
  3. A report by a clinical psychologist in respect of the commissioning parents and a separate report in respect of the surrogate and her partner.
  4. A medical report regarding the surrogate mother.
  5. Details and proof of payment of any compensation for services rendered, either to the surrogate herself or to the intermediary, the donor, the clinic or any third party involved in the process.
  6. All agreements between the surrogate and any intermediary, or any other person who is involved in the process.
  7. Full particulars, if any agency was involved, any payment to such agency as well as an affidavit by that agency.
  8. Whether any of the commissioning parents have been charged with, or convicted of a violent crime or crime of a sexual nature.

In respect of the enrolment or registration of the matter with the Court, the guidelines noted below should be followed, in order to protect the identities of the parties:

  1. Any party who seeks to bring an application will follow normal procedures for the matter to be issued by the Registrar.
  2. The court file must thereafter be brought to the office of the Deputy Judge President, together with a letter explaining the facts and that the application is brought in terms of section 295 of Act 38 of 2005 and requesting a date for hearing. In the event that any urgency exists in the hearing of the matter, that must be set out in the letter as well.
  3. The Deputy Judge President will then give further directions as to how this matter shall be heard in due course, including the allocation of the judge for the hearing the matter.
  4. Any consideration in respect of holding the hearing “in camera” (no member of the public can be present), must be addressed to the judge who is allocated to hear the matter, once the parties are notified of the relevant date of the hearing.

* ex parte is a Latin term meaning “from one party”, indicating that one of the parties in respect of the proceedings is absent.