Parental Rights Of Rapists Under Scrutiny

The Children Act 1989 is one of the most important pieces of legislation regarding the welfare of children in the UK.  Any family solicitor will know the power it has in court and how the welfare of the child is paramount.  

However, there are cases where local authorities, those who have a duty to protect children in their care, as outlined in the same Act, have potentially put children at risk.

Parental rights, also known as Parental Responsibilities (PR), are bestowed automatically upon the birth mother, whereas a father will only gain these rights automatically by being married to the child’s mother.  Should a mother not wish for a father to have PR, for whatever reason, she may omit his details from the birth certificate, and it would be for a father to seek PR.

It would seem a good enough reason, to most, that making the decision to not want the father to have any responsibility for a child conceived through rape, would have merit.  After all, it could be said, that having someone capable of rape, responsible for the decisions about a child conceived through such a heinous crime, would not be in the best interests of said child.  It could also allow a convicted rapist further control over his victim.

The recent Rotherham sex abuse scandal brought to the attention of MP for Sheffield Heely, Ms Haigh, that men who fathered children through rape were being offered and actively encouraged to seek PR by local authorities; the very authorities charged with ensuring the welfare of children in their care.

Ms Haigh was inspired by the story of Sammy Woodhouse, who had a son by her rapist, Arshid Hussain, a member behind the Rotherham sex gang and who is now serving his 35 year sentence for his role in the scandal.

A year after Mr Hussain was sentenced, Ms Woodhouse discovered that Rotherham Council had encouraged Mr Hussain to apply for PR after she had sought a care order and named him as the father.  Mr Hussain had not been named on the birth certificate.

Under Practice Directions 12C, councils applying for a care order should tell:

“every person whom the applicant believes to be a parent without parental responsibility for the child”.

Until a routine variation to her son’s care order, Ms Woodhouse had no idea that Rotherham Council had informed Mr Hussain of his right to apply for access to her son.

Rotherham Council, although acting under the Practice Direction, could have applied to the courts for permission to not notify Mr Hussain about the care proceedings, especially if it were not in the best interest of the child, however, this was not done, as the council suggested they was not aware of this exemption.

After hearing the story of Ms Woodhouse, Ms Haigh sought to change the Children Act itself.  The Government rejected the changes as it would:

“undermine a convicted rapist’s right…to a family life.”.

Undeterred, Ms Haigh’s has recently brought to Parliament a Private Member’s Bill – The Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts Bill – which seeks to remove or block the parental rights of fathers of children conceived through rape.  The Bill also makes  the provision for an inquiry into the handling by family courts of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls.

 Ms Haigh stated that research by Women’s Aid had found:

“clear examples of family courts prioritising domestic abusers’ rights over survivors.”

We eagerly await the Bill’s second reading in the House of Commons and watching its progression through Parliament.

Want to have your say? Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more stories

Join nearly 3,000 other family practitioners - Check back daily for all the latest news, views, insights and best practice and sign up to our e-newsletter to receive our weekly round up every Thursday morning. 

You’ll receive the latest updates, analysis, and best practice straight to your inbox.