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Do convicted paedophiles lose their parental rights?

View profile for Harriet Starkey
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Currently, parental rights are ‘absolute’ in law and can only be managed through a court order. However, a new law could mean that in the UK convicted paedophiles who are parents, would automatically lose the right to see their own children. This proposal comes after the BBC reported that a mother, Bethan*, in Cardiff spent £30,000 in legal fees to stop her convicted paedophile ex-husband from being granted access to their daughter.

What is this new proposal?

After hearing Bethan’s story, Labour MP Harriet Harman tabled an amendment to upcoming legislation. This would mean that where someone is convicted of the offence of rape of a child under 13, they would be “automatically deprived” of their parental rights. A convicted paedophile would only be able to get their parental rights back if they made an application to the Family Court and is able to persuade that it is in the child’s best interests that their parental rights are reinstated.

It has been reported that the Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk – who is responsible for courts, prisons, probation and constitutional affairs – is in agreement with this proposed amendment. 

“It is a glaring anomaly that while the law protects other people’s children from a sex offender, it doesn’t protect his own” says Ms Harman.

Ms Harman is a former deputy leader of the Labour Party and highlighted the ‘glaring anomaly’ which leaves a convicted paedophile’s parental rights intact, and instead forces parents into long and expensive legal battles to protect their children.

In November 2023, Cardiff Family Court ruled in the Bethan’s favour and restricted the father’s rights, which means that he is forbidden from any contact with his daughter until she turns 18. The father retained parental responsibility when he was convicted, and therefore had influence over his daughter’s education, health and travel – which caused issues for Bethan when planning to take her daughter on holiday abroad. The Judge that made the ruling stated that the father was “extremely high risk” and also forbode him from requesting yearly reports about his daughter’s well-being.

Bethan’s case was relatively straightforward but still incurred £30,000 worth of legal fees, as she was not eligible for legal aid. This new legislation would prevent parents like Bethan from having to pay thousands in legal fees to ensure their children are not at risk, as they would be protected from the moment that a parent is convicted in a criminal court.

Hannah Markham KC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association, commented that changing legal aid requirements could be a quicker, more effective way to enable parents like Bethan to go to court and she hopes that this case will serve as a precedent.

Cardiff Family Court is one of the courts where Transparency Reporting Pilot scheme was rolled out, which allowed journalists to report family courts in a meaningful way for the first time. The scheme has been extended to cover almost half the family courts in England and Wales. Bethan believes that her experience shows the value of reporting on the proceedings within the family courts and that this will benefit others in the future.

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*The story above from the BBC uses a false name to protect Bethan’s privacy.