Should a Rapist have the right to be a parent to a child conceived by rape?

24/06/2019

Louise Haigh MP, amongst other MP’s, believe not. She has put forward a Private Members Bill seeking to redress the current situation whereby a father who rapes the mother can apply to the court for the right to play a role in the life of that child.The Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts Bill 2017-2019 is now awaiting its second reading at the House of Commons, the first reading having been completed on 10 April 2019. ​   

What is the Bill about?

This Bill is to remove the parental rights of fathers of children conceived through rape; to make provision for an inquiry into the handling by family courts of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls in child arrangement cases; and for connected purposes. It also seeks to allow an inquiry into how family courts respond to allegations of domestic abuse. ​   1

Parental rights (rapists) in current law

The current law allows the father of a child conceived through rape to apply to the court for Parental Responsibility and for access to the child. Parental Responsibility is acquired automatically by fathers who are married to the child’s mother, or who are named on the child’s birth certificate but can also be acquired by a Court Order. Fathers with parental responsibility must be notified of any care proceedings involving the child and any family court case concerning the child. The court will usually require notice to be given to anyone believed to have Parental Responsibility. ​
    1

Why change is needed

The Private Members Bill came about from the terribly sad case of Sammy Woodhouse and the Rotherham grooming scandal. Sammy was just 14 when she became pregnant by her rapist and the ringleader of the notorious child abuse gang.

Having testified against her rapist and helping convict him she became so overwhelmed and stressed it became apparent to her that she was unable to care for her new-born son and she placed him under a care order with the local authority.

After the criminal proceedings had concluded and the rapist was sentenced to 35 years behind bars, Sammy was informed that he had been notified by Rotherham Council of his right to apply for access to the child. Thankfully, he did not do so. However, several months later he was again encouraged by the council to apply for access. No notification was given to Sammy and the rapist father could have applied to the court upon their advice and dragged her though the court system once again.

Working closing with Sammy and the then President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, Louise Haigh proposed a change, saying “We need to flip the presumption that anyone who has fathered a child through rape should be encouraged to apply for access regardless of the risk they present, to removing that automatic right and allowing the courts to only grant access in exceptional circumstances if it is in the clear interests of the child.”    1

Closer to home

Whilst it may seem an extreme case, members of our family law team have also represented clients in such situations.

One notable case involved a young mother who became pregnant through rape, gave birth to her son and immediately fled, leaving her family and support network behind.The young lady changed her whole identity and physical appearance in the hope her rapist would not track her down.

Sadly, however, he did find her with the assistance of the courts. What followed were several years of court proceedings which eventually led to a direct contact session between the rapist father and child.

With the help of her lawyer the court eventually determined that the father should not have a relationship with the child. The child was by this point aged 5 years old and the mother was unsurprisingly traumatised. 

More information

Our family law team in Essex and London can provide you with confidential legal advice to help you deal with situations like this. Our experienced team will be happy to see you for a free and fully confidential initial consultation to provide you with advice and support regarding family law around violence, rape and any other children related disputes.

Contact us for a free initial consultation today.This article was written by Jennifer Herbert, Senior Associate​ in the Family Law Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of June 2019.

24/06/2019

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