In the world of legal reforms, perhaps the forthcoming proposal and introduction of Jade’s Law is a shift towards a more compassionate and just society. The proposal aims to reshape the landscape of victim protection and redefine the concept of parental responsibility.
What is the current law on parental responsibility?
Anyone who is listed on a child’s birth certificate or was married to the mother of the child (and is the child’s biological father) at the time of the child’s birth has automatic ‘parental responsibility’ for the child(ren). Parental responsibility can also be acquired by various means.
If you have parental responsibility for a child but you do not live with them, it does not mean you have a right to spend time with your children but it does mean the other parent must include you when making important decisions about their lives.
Parental responsibility is defined in law by the Children Act 1989 as ‘…all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.’
People with parental responsibility are entitled to have a say in major decisions about the child, such as:
- where the child should live
- where they should go to school
- what (if any) religion the child should have
- what name they should have
- the giving or withholding of medical treatment, and
- dealing with their money or property
What is Jade’s Law?
The Government has made a recent announcement that the Victims and Prisoners Bill will be amended so parents who kill a partner or ex-partner with whom they have children will automatically have their parental responsibility suspended upon sentencing.
The law will be named after Jade Ward, who was murdered by her former partner in 2021. Her family have been campaigning to change the law after her murderer was able to continue to take part in decisions relating to their four children causing further trauma on them and Jade’s parents.
While no draft amendments to the Bill have currently been released, the Government’s announcement indicates we should expect the amendments to include the following:
- A parent who kills a partner or ex-partner with whom they have children will automatically have their parental responsibility suspended upon sentencing; This measure is designed to ensure that individuals with such convictions do not retain influence over major decisions concerning the child.
- This will apply to anyone convicted of murder or voluntary manslaughter; underlining the gravity of the offense and its impact on the child.
- The suspension will be reviewed “swiftly” by a judge to ensure it is in the best interests of the child; and
- There will be an automatic exemption put in place in cases where a domestic abuse victim kills their abuser, recognising the complexities of such situations and avoiding unnecessary punitive measures against the victim.
The proposed amendments signify an important step towards securing the rights and well-being of children in situations marred by violence and tragedy. The primary objective amendments is to better protect children from the potential harm caused by a parent with a violent history by preventing convicted killers from having any say over key elements of their life, including whether they can access therapeutic support, go on holiday or change schools.
It will also mean the bereaved will no longer have to go through the current process of applying to restrict parental responsibility through the family court, reducing the burden on them at a challenging time.
By fundamentally altering the dynamics of parental responsibility in extreme cases, this amendment underscores a commitment to prioritising the wellbeing of children and offering a glimmer of hope to victims of domestic abuse.
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