Ministry of Justice
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Child rapists to automatically have parental responsibility stripped

Vile abusers who rape a child will have their own parental responsibilities automatically removed under new laws.

  • paedophile rapists will automatically lose the right to have a say in their child’s life
  • innocent parents saved from instigating and funding court battles
  • changes to Criminal Justice Bill build on landmark Jade’s Law

An amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill tabled by the government today (10 May 2024) will mean when child rapists are sentenced, their ability to make decisions about their own children’s lives will also be suspended.

The change will apply in cases where the perpetrator attacks any child.

This builds on Jade’s Law, introduced through the Victims and Prisoners Bill currently progressing through the Lords, which applies an automatic suspension of parental responsibility in cases where a perpetrator has killed a partner or ex-partner with whom they share children.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said:

Our priority will always be to make sure the best interests of children are protected.

This new law will ensure they are automatically safeguarded against those whose despicable actions have shown them to utterly lack any nurturing and caring instincts.

This amendment will also provide important protections for innocent parents.

While the courts do have the power to strip parental responsibility when it is in the best interest of a child, currently it requires families and former partners of perpetrators to instigate and fund proceedings to secure these orders to protect their children. Costs for these types of proceedings can run into tens of thousands of pounds.

However, under the new rule, parental responsibility will be automatically suspended.

It means the perpetrator will no longer have any say over key elements of a child’s life - including whether they can access therapeutic support, go on holiday or change schools.

The case will then be referred to the family courts, and it will be for the perpetrator to prove to a judge it is in the child’s best interests for their parental responsibility to be reinstated.

Justice Minister, Laura Farris, said:

It is right that those who commit the most vile and unspeakable act against children should have their parental responsibility automatically removed rather than this being something the innocent parent is required to apply for.

I want to thank those who have campaigned for this change including Harriet Harman and Sanchia Berg for bringing this issue to the fore.

The new law will be subject to a review after three years to ensure it is working for victims and innocent parties, and to evaluate how the power may be developed.

The government also tabled amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill to:

  • Introduce a new offence of creating a sexually explicit deepfake image, meaning anyone who creates such an image without consent for their own sexual gratification or to cause alarm, humiliation or distress faces a criminal record and unlimited fine.
  • Create a new statutory aggravating factor to tackle offenders who cause death through abusive, degrading or dangerous sexual behaviour meaning so-called ‘rough sex’ killers face tougher sentences than ever before.
  • Strengthen the law on sexual activity in the presence of a child, removing the need to prove the perpetrators knew, believed, or intended that the child was aware of the sexual act ensuring no prosecutions are missed.
  • Update the language of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, to make crystal clear in law and to the public that spiking is illegal.

The government previously amended the Victims and Prisoners Bill to introduce an automatic suspension of parental responsibility in tragic cases where one parent has killed the other, also known as ‘Jade’s Law’.

This law is named after Jade Ward, who was murdered by her former partner in 2021. Her family campaigned tirelessly to change the law after her murderer was able to continue to take part in decisions relating to their four children inflicting further trauma on them and Jade’s parents.

Notes to editors

  • Under this new approach local authorities will be responsible for making the application to the family courts, shielding the families involved from the burden of initiating proceedings and meeting legal costs. MOJ will be funding the additional costs this will create for local authorities via the New Burdens process. 
  • The family court ‘review’ stage will allow for detailed consideration of the best interests of any children involved in the case, the cornerstone of the Children Act 1989. It will also provide an opportunity for the perpetrator to make representations as to why they feel they should retain their parental responsibility, in line with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
  • In determining the child’s welfare needs, the family court will apply the factors set out in the ‘welfare checklist’ in the Children Act 1989. These include the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned, the impact on the child of any change in circumstances, and how capable each parent is of meeting the child’s needs. The court will also consider any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  • Parental responsibility can already be restricted by the court through a range of orders if it is in the best interests of the child. In the most serious cases, this can effectively amount to restricting all exercise of parental responsibility. These types of orders include Prohibited Steps Orders and Specific Issues Orders and they can be made whether the parent has been convicted of a crime or not.
  • The family court can also prevent an individual attempting to repeatedly bring issues back before the court as a form of abuse through measures such as a Section 91(14) Order. These orders prohibit an individual from making further applications without the court’s permission, for example in cases where a perpetrator may seek to repeatedly bring a victim back to court as a means of perpetuating their abuse.
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