A Call for Family Court Reform: Safeguarding Children

A Call for Family Court Reform: Safeguarding Children
Legally reviewed by: Jonathan Pollard Updated: In: Child Care

When Bethan’s daughter’s father was sent to prison for sexual abuse, she was horrified to find out that on his release he would still have access to their child. Bethan’s complex journey to safeguarding her child highlights the need for family court reform to prioritise the safety and well-being of vulnerable children.

Paedophile Father Retains Parental Rights to His Child

Bethan’s case began with the realisation that despite her ex-husband’s imprisonment for child sexual abuse, he retained parental rights. When he was sentences, he was given an order banning him from any future contact with children. However, this order did not extend to him seeking contact with his own child. This is because, he and Bethan were married when their daughter was born. Therefore, he retains parental rights, allowing him at least a say over his child’s health, education and living arrangements despite his criminal history.

Navigating a Complex Legal System

To protect her child from future contact, Bethan had to navigate a complex legal system grappling with the intricacies of parental rights versus child protection. Despite the severity of her former partner’s crimes, Bethan encountered difficult challenges in her pursuit to remove his parental ties. This was made harder by the absence of legal aid and accumulating financial burdens.

With the support of her parents, Bethan took the step of asking the court to remove her ex-husband’s parental rights and ban all contact – direct, indirect and through social media – until their daughter turns 18.

Escalating Legal Costs

Because Bethan was not eligible for legal aid, even before her first heading the costs of her solicitor and barrister were already mounting. It took for Bethan’s parents to extend their mortgage for the case to be paid for. In addition to the emotional impact of the case, it has also come at a significant price, costing Bethan’s family over £30,000.

The family believe that others could avoid similar financial burdens in similar court cases if laws are changed to automatically suspend parental rights from paedophiles when they’re sentenced, only restoring them if the offender applies to a family court.

For Hannah Markham KC, changing legal aid could be a quicker, more effective way to enable more parents like Bethan to go to court – and she hopes this case will serve as a precedent.

Accredited Reports Allowed in the Family Court

Bethan’s case also underscores the importance of accredited reports within the family court system. The presence of accredited reporters has been recently allowed in the family court under the new Transparency Order enabling scrutiny and accountability, shedding light on the actions of local authorities and the courts while safeguarding the anonymity of those involved. Through media coverage and public discourse, Bethan’s case received broader attention, highlighting the benefits of transparency in promoting informed dialogue and enhancing public trust in the judicial process. As Bethan’s journey exemplifies, the transparency brought about by accredited reports serves as a catalyst for positive change and for a more transparent and accountable family court system that prioritises the best interests of children.

Hannah Markam KC, states: “The more it’s published and talked about, the more it will educate other people to know this is the right thing to do,” she says.

Favourable Family Court Outcome, Safeguarding Vulnerable Children

As the case finalised, Bethan’s determination was granted a positive court’s ruling, which restricts her former partner’s parental rights in recognition of the risks posed to the child’s well-being. Furthermore, the court deems him ‘”an extremely high risk” and therefore does not grant the father’s request for yearly reports. The court also grants a Barring Order. This makes it more difficult for Bethan’s ex-husband to apply to change the judge’s decision once he is released for prison. He will only be informed if his daughter is terminally ill, or if they have moved to a different country, but not where they are.

A Call for Legislative Reform in the Family Court

Bethan’s story serves as a reminder of the systemic shortcomings that continue in family law proceedings. With the high cost of legal battles and the absence of automatic suspension of parental rights for convicted paedophiles Bethan’s case underscores the need for legislative reform to prioritise child safety above all else.

Bethan and her parents believe the presence of journalists in court under the new transparency scheme has really benefitted them and will also be helpful to others in future.

Now Bethan says her daughter “can have a normal childhood, and she can be safe”.

Legal Disclaimer.

All advice is correct at time of publication.