In the first case – Re P – the judge terminated the parental responsibility of a father who had been sent to prison for injuring his child. He said
“I believe that there is no element of the band of responsibilities that make up parental responsibility which this father could in present or in foreseeable circumstances exercise in a way which would be beneficial for the child. I therefore conclude that it is appropriate to make an order as sought under section 4 [of the Children Act]…bringing to an end the parental responsibility agreement entered into….”
And the second – CW v SG – has just been referred to the Court of Appeal. This illuminating case from earlier in the year concerned the relationship between a father and his son, called ‘D’ in the case reports. The boy’s parents had a “turbulent” relationship. The man used illegal drugs and the mother had children from other relationships and suffered from depression.
The father was jailed after being found guilty of sexually abusing two of the woman’s daughters. As soon as the man was released, the woman applied to have PR terminated. The parents were unmarried but the father was named on the child’s birth certificate so, under the Family Law Act 1996, he had acquired PR.
Mr Justice Baker carefully considered the arguments but followed the decision in Re P.
He too applied section 1(1) of the Children Act to the facts of the case and in order to do so, considered the “so called welfare checklist” at Section 1(3). He concluded, for a number of factual reasons, that the removal of the man’s parental rights was certainly in the child’s best interests.
In relation to the ECHR argument, he referred to a previous decision of the European Court of Human Rights – Smallwood v UK (1999) 27 EHRR 155. In that case, the European Court considered whether the termination of an unmarried father’s parental responsibility by an English court was in breach of Articles 8 and 14. The father argued that he had been discriminated against when his parental responsibility was terminated by virtue of his marital status and sex because the courts cannot terminate the parental responsibility of a married father. The court accepted that the father’s Article 8 rights were involved but concluded that there had ben no breach of his rights either on the basis of his marital status or of his gender. On the subject of his marital status, the court declared:
“The Commission recalls that the relationship between natural father’s and their children varies from ignorance and indifference to a close stable relationship indistinguishable from the conventional family unit (McMichael v UK (1995) 20 EHRR 205). For this reason the court has heard that there exists an objective and reasonable justification for the difference in treatment between married and unmarried fathers with regard to automatic acquisition of parental rights…