Imprisoned father loses parental responsibility

Family Law|September 19th 2016

A father currently imprisoned for serious sexual offences has lost parental responsibility for his two children.

While the parents never married, the father was named on the birth certificates of both his nine year-old daughter, ‘A’, and his five year-old son, ‘R’. The couple separated in 2012 after the father was accused of sexually abusing A. He was later found guilty of the crime and sentenced to 14 years in prison.

The mother sought permission from the Family Court to change her children’s surnames and for the father’s parental responsibility to be terminated. While the father did not object to the change of names, he opposed the mother’s second application. The mother listed several reasons why she thought the court should revoke the father’s responsibility. These included her belief that he could “contribute towards the current or future welfare of the children”.

She also claimed the father had caused A “significant harm” and said she was afraid he would try to contact her and the children upon his release from prison.

Miss Recorder Henley said that no matter how “extreme or exceptional the facts of a particular case, termination of Parental Responsibility is a draconian step” which should not be taken lightly. But this was an “exceptional and extreme” case. The judge agreed with a Cafcass assessment that said the father “remain[ed] a very high risk to each child in so far as their emotional wellbeing is concerned”.

The “most heinous” actions of the father which resulted in his imprisonment meant he had “forfeited any claim that he had to holding Parental Responsibility for his children”, the judge declared. She believed that if he did not already have it, “he would not today be awarded it”.

Making the requested order would be in the children’s best interests, the judge said. If it was not made, the father would maintain responsibility for the children “in circumstances in which it is wholly inappropriate for him to do so”. Therefore, Miss Recorder Henley ruled it must be terminated.

Read M v F (change of surname: terminating Parental Responsibility) here.

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  1. Andrew says:

    “When the matter was before me on 24th August 2016 I directed that F must provide me with any questions that he wished to pose to M in writing in advance of today’s hearing so that I could take a decision as to which questions could be put. I also directed that I would put any acceptable questions to M on F’s behalf to prevent a situation where F was questioning M directly, given that she is particularly anxious and I had already acceded to a request for her to have special measures, in the form of screens, in the Courtroom. F failed to supply any written questions. The direction I made indicated that in the event that F failed to supply questions in this way, he may forfeit the right to ask them. In fact F confirmed today that he did not have any questions for M.”
    Whatever the rights and wrongs of this case, and it may well be a no-brainer, could there be a more vivid illustration of the injustice of granting legal aid to her but not to him?
    Sooner or later somebody will say that if you are refused legal aid your right to cross-examine is just that – a right – not negotiable and not to be substituted by a judge – who is supposed to remain neutral – approving your questions (or not) and asking them for you. There is no level playing field here.

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