On 3 October 2023 it was announced that the Victims and Prisoners Bill will be amended to introduce Jade’s Law. This will automatically suspend parental responsibility for parents sentenced for killing a partner or ex-partner, with whom they have children.
This follows the tireless campaigning of the family of Jade Ward who, in 2021, was murdered by her former partner, leaving behind 4 young sons. Despite serving 25 years in prison for Jade’s murder, under the current law, her former partner retains parental responsibility and must still be consulted on decisions concerning the children, including their health, education and ability to travel. This has enabled him to continue to inflict trauma on Jade’s children and family.
All mothers and most fathers have parental responsibility for their children. Married parents will both have parental responsibility but if they are unmarried, only the mother will automatically have parental responsibility. Unmarried fathers can obtain parental responsibility through various mechanisms, such as being registered on the child’s birth certificate, or by entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother.
This gives parents responsibility for making important decisions in their child’s life, for example in relation to their education and religion. Some decisions, which the court considers are particularly important, will require consent from everyone with parental responsibility, or, in the absence of this consent, approval from the court.
The current position:
Currently, as Jade’s Law is yet to take effect, an individual who is found guilty of murdering the person that they shared parental responsibility with retains the ability to exercise their responsibility. In the case of Jade Ward, whose children were placed into the care of her family, her ex-partner was able to continue to exert control over the children, for example by requesting updates through his solicitor and by withholding his consent for them to travel abroad.
There is a mechanism whereby the court can make an order, in exceptional circumstances, to remove a parent’s parental responsibility. However, the burden is on the victim’s family to make this application. The requirement to go to court and make this application, puts the family and children of the victim through further trauma, as well as a potentially lengthy and expensive court case. It effectively enables the murderer to continue their campaign of manipulation and abuse.
The introduction of Jade’s Law has been strongly welcomed by domestic abuse charities and campaigners alike. Following its implementation, there will be an automatic suspension of parental responsibility for an individual who murders their partner or ex-partner, with whom they share children. The automatic suspension of the murderer’s parental responsibility will reduce their ability to inflict further harm on the victim’s children and family.
There will be some exceptions; under the proposed law, the court would still have an opportunity to consider if the suspension of parental responsibility is in the best interests of the child. There will also be an automatic exemption for cases where a victim of domestic abuse kills their abuser.
If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog, please do not hesitate to contact us for confidential family law advice.