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A concerning precedent

Knowledge of paternity does not confer parental responsibility

· Social comment,Adoption,High Court rulings

I was asked by the Daily Express to make a statement on the ruling of a High Court judge that a boy of 15 who fathered a child does not need to be informed of the child's existence or that the child has been adopted.

It is disturbing that information has been withheld from a young man, on the basis of what he might do. It is true that his background is troubled and concerning that he is said to have committed a number of assaults and carry a knife. (Information which was not disclosed to me when I was asked to comment).

Nonetheless, if the young man is able to consent to sex and able to father a child, then he ought to be informed that actions have consequences, even if he and his family are incapable of raising the child. It may be that the existence of a child gives him an opportunity to reform, it may be that social services rule that his family are not suitable prospective carers of the child, it may be that the father would like an opportunity to be involved in his child's life, but these are judgements which ought to be made separately to whether or not he has the right to know. In direct contravention of all principles of basic justice, a boy has effectively been found guilty of a crime he is yet to commit and denied his human rights, without any chance for him to defend himself.

While the mother's distress is understandable, her life has already been irreparably changed by what has happened to her. Keeping her pregnancy and the subsequent adoption of the baby secret smacks of the attitude employed by the notorious Mother and Baby homes of the last century. The young woman has done nothing to be ashamed of and is to be commended for attempting to do what is in her child's best interests, at great personal cost to herself.

Here is my quote in full:

"I am extremely uneasy with this decision, which smacks of state overreach. Just as every single human being has the right to discover their biological parentage, so too, do individuals have the right to know that they have fathered a child, separate to any right to be involved in that child's life. It is the child mother's right, together with her parents to decide whether or not to have the child adopted however this should not mean that the child's father should not be informed of his paternity. At the very least, the father needs to be informed that his actions have had consequences and the decision about adoption appears to pre-judge whether or not his family would be suitable prospective adopters, which ought to be treated as a separate question. It is preferable, where possible, that a child is raised by their biological family, however this decision strips the father's family of agency and the right to be considered on their own merits. Of course this does not apply in cases of rape.

The best interests of the child should always be paramount and a right to know that one has fathered a child, does not confer automatic parental responsibility. The court's remit is to decide who ought to exercise parental responsibility keeping in mind a child's best interests, when there is a conflict, but the decision to withhold basic factual information is overly intrusive and breaches the father's basic human rights.

The state has a duty to look after children when their parents are unable to raise them, but that does not extend to the right to deny parents the knowledge of the existence of their children. It appears to set a very concerning precedent."