At the end of last week, the High Court considered the matter of when parental rights (known as Parental Responsibility or PR) should be removed from a parent. The case is only the second reported case to consider the issue, and the last reported decision was back in 1995.
Many people would be surprised to learn that parents do not automatically lose their Parental Rights as a result of domestic abuse, or of abusing the Child directly in whatever form (emotional, physical or sexual). The case concerned a father who had been convicted of sexually abusing one of 6 siblings, following his release from prison for various offences concerning children, including the child in question. In a rare move, his PR was terminated on the basis that it was considered his on-going involvement with the child, however minimal would bring with it the risk of further emotionally damaging the child.
The Court made it clear that such a move is a draconian step, and of course has Human Rights implications. Such cases mark a classic example of circumstances in which the Human Rights of a child and a parent can compete, and how a fine balancing exercise must be undertaken.
Many people may find it astonishing that the decision to remove parental rights from a parent who has been found to have sexually abused his child took months of litigation and required expert evidence, but this is an indication of the way in which there are no presumptions in Child Law, and each case will be considered in detail, to look at the pros and cons of each potential outcome for the child in both the short and long term.
The exercise of parental responsibility is often the source of dispute between Separated Parents, especially where the relationship between them is difficult. As this case makes clear, the court will hardly ever solve this problem by simply removing the rights from a parent, but can instead adjudicate on any specific issue upon which the parents can’t agree.
By Family Law Solicitor Cara Nuttall.