Parental rights of an unmarried father following imprisonment for sexual abuse

17/04/2013

A decision has been made in the High Court recently which is believed to be the first of its kind for nearly 20 years.  The case of CW v SG saw a decision made by Mr. Justice Baker in the Family Division terminating the parental rights of an unmarried father, following his imprisonment for sexual abuse.
The mother and father had cohabited since 2002, they had a number of children together, but the child in question ‘D’ was born in 2004.  The relationship was tumultuous, the parties separated and reunited a number of times.  The father was a user of illegal drugs during most of the relationship and the mother suffered from depression.
D made a number of allegations of sexual abuse against the father, with the Police becoming involved in 2008, leading to the father’s prosecution and subsequent conviction to 3 offences of sexual assault of a child under 13, 2 offences of causing or inciting a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity, 1 offence of sexual activity with a child under 16 and 1 offence of causing a child under 13 to engage in sexual activity.  He was sentenced to 48 months imprisonment, but was released in June 2011, halfway through his term.
Once released, mother made an immediate application to remove his legal rights as a parent of D.  The father was named on D’s birth certificate and therefore had Parental Responsibility under Section 4 of the Children Act 1989.  The father meanwhile countered the application with his own application for a Specific Issue Order, to compel the mother to provide annual report’s as to the children’s progress, something which he had sought whilst in prison, but something that the mother had refused.
The father advanced an argument that his Human Rights would be breached if the court removed his parental rights, an argument rejected by the Court.  The Cafcass officer in this case was praised for an excellent report in assisting the court, the report being described as ‘perceptive and persuasive’ by Mr. Justice Baker, who accepted the recommendations of the officer, who:-

“….expressed the view that D’s position in the family, and his self-esteem, were affected by the fact that he was seen as the father’s child. In this respect, it was not so much the current application [by the father] that concerned her but, rather, the possibility of further applications which she felt would add to the stigma attaching to D. She thought there would be very many difficulties if the father started to exercise his parental responsibility.”

The Judge also accepted the recommendation that the father be allowed to write a letter to his son, which could be disclosed to him at “…such a time in his life that he becomes interested and inquisitive about his birth father…” which would allow the father to be able to acknowledge that he was responsible for the situation.
When making the decision to terminate the father’s parental rights, the Judge satisfied himself that not only should the father’s criminal conviction be accepted as evidence of the underlying facts (the father having suggested to the Family Court within this application that his guilty plea was a false confession) but that the child’s emotional security would be ‘imperiled’ were the father to continue to have any further involvement in his life.  He subsequently refused the father’s application for a Specific Issue Order.
A full case report can be found here:- (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/854.html)
Ian Davies
Senior Solicior
Oxford

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