Judgments come in all shapes and sizes. Well, in all sizes, at least. For example, one of the longest I have come across recently (although thankfully not a family law case) was Generics (UK) Ltd (t/a Mylan) v Warner-Lambert Company LLC, which weighed in at a hefty 727 paragraphs. At the other end of the scale, one of the shortest judgments I have read was published last week, Re Pook (Declaration of Parentage), which came in at a much more manageable seven paragraphs.
Re Pook concerned a sad but interesting scenario relating to the registration of a birth. I will explain the details in a moment, but first a little background on the law of paternity, legitimacy and registration of births.
It seems a little anachronistic to still be talking of legitimacy in the twenty-first century. It is even more anachronistic to be using a Latin expression, but I will do so: Pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant. To put that into English, the law presumes that if the mother is married then her husband is the father of the child. A recent example of this can be found in the child support legislation, which says that the presumption operates if the husband was married to the mother at any time in the period beginning with the conception and ending with the birth of the child.
It follows from this that if the parents were married then either of them may register the birth of the child on their own and include both parents’ details. However, where the parents were not married, details of both parents can only be included on the birth certificate if they sign the birth register together, if one parent completes a statutory declaration of parentage form and the other takes the signed form to register the birth or if one parent goes to register the birth with a document from the court, for example, a court order, giving the father parental responsibility.
The sad situation in Re Pook was that the parents of the child, who was given the delightful name Willow Simone Pook, were not married and the father died suddenly and unexpectedly just two days after she was born. There was clearly no time for him to be given parental responsibility, or for a statutory declaration of parentage to be prepared, even if those things had been considered, which must be unlikely.
Accordingly, the mother registered Willow’s birth, and her father’s details could not be included on the birth certificate.
However, section 14 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 provides that a person’s birth can be re-registered where that person has become a “legitimated person”. Section 14 specifically provides that where the paternity of the legitimated person has been established by a court order the re-registration can proceed without requiring information with a view to obtaining it being furnished by both parents.
Wishing to have Willow’s father’s details included on her birth certificate, her mother applied under section 55A of the Family Law Act 1986 for a declaration of parentage, stating that Willow’s father was indeed her parent. The application went before Mr Justice Peter Jackson, who duly made the declaration (even though Willow’s paternity was not in doubt, it had been confirmed by DNA testing). Accordingly, Willow’s birth could be re-registered, to include her father’s details.
As Mr Justice Jackson said, a sad and unusual case, albeit with some interesting points. I’m sure Willow will benefit from and appreciate what has occurred. I wish her a long and happy life.
The judgment in Re Pook, all seven paragraphs of it, can be read here.