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Jade’s Law: Parents who kill their co-parent will automatically lose parental responsibility

AuthorsKatie ColemanCara Nuttall

Jades Law Parents who kill their co parent will automatically lose parental responsibility

The UK Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk, will announce at this year’s Conservative party conference that Jade’s Law will be introduced before Parliament later this year.

Here, family law specialists Katie Coleman and Cara Nuttall discuss how Jade’s Law will apply where a parent murders their co-parent – it will provide for that parent’s parental responsibility of the children to be suspended automatically.

What led to the introduction of Jade’s Law?

In 2021, 27-year-old Jade Ward was tragically murdered in her home by her partner Russell Marsh. This terrible and tragic crime occurred while their four sons slept in the house. Russell Marsh was found guilty of murdering Jade and was sentenced to at least 25 years in prison.

However, despite this, Russell retained parental responsibility for the children, as is currently the law in England and Wales. Jade’s parents care for the children and have reportedly been subjected to requests from Russell from prison, including requests for photographs of the children, school reports and medical details. Jade’s parents have been campaigning for a change in the law.

As the law currently stands, there is no provision for parental responsibility to be removed automatically (whether following a domestic homicide, or other serious or tragic circumstances) and the court must consider on a case-by-case basis whether a parent should have their PR removed, or restricted.

That requires a formal application to be made, and detailed consideration of the specific circumstances. It is understood the proposed changes would negate the need for that application, and allow for termination of PR to take place automatically, sparing bereaved families the addition stress of court proceedings.

What is Parental Responsibility?

The Children Act 1989 provides that parental responsibility refers to all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a person has in relation to a child and their property. Parental responsibility can only be curtailed or terminated by a court order.

In practice, having parental responsibility gives a person the legal power to make decisions in relation to the upbringing of a child, including but not limited to the following: -

It also gives the holder the right to obtain certain information about a child, such as medical and education records.

Mothers automatically acquire parental responsibility on birth. Whether and how a second parent, whether a father or same-sex parent, obtains parental responsibility depends on the circumstances of conception and the marital status of the parents. 

If that parent does not acquire PR automatically, it can be gained via a parental responsibility agreement or court order. Likewise, in some circumstances others such as stepparents or extended family members may also acquire PR either by agreement, or by court order, depending on the circumstances.

Where someone holds parental responsibility for a child, they must be consulted about all significant decisions in relation to that child. In cases where a parent has inflicted serious harm, or death, the ongoing duty of communication and consultation can add to the trauma of the children and/or those caring for them.  

The court can make orders which limit what information a parent can obtain and what decisions they must be consulted about, or remove PR, but this involves a detailed consideration of the facts within court proceedings.

What will Jade’s Law do?

Alex Chalk has said “Murderers who kill their partners should not be able to manipulate and control their children from behind bars, which is why we are fixing the law to protect families from this appalling behaviour.”

Jade’s Law will be introduced as part of the Victims and Prisoners Bill, and it will provide for the parental responsibility over children held by a person who is convicted of the murder of voluntary manslaughter of their partner/co-parent to be removed without the current need for a court process, hopefully sparing families such as Jade’s the additional trauma and expense that can be incurred as a result.

It is expected that there will be an exception to Jade’s law which will prevent it from applying where parents who are victims of domestic abuse kill their abuser/the co-parent.

Within Children Law, there has always been a view that a “one size fits all” approach is rarely appropriate and that the court must retain the ability to review the situation of any specific set of circumstances to establish what is in the particular child’s best interests. 

As such, automatic presumptions such as that which is proposed are rare and it is likely that as with most presumptions, there will still be the possibility of different outcomes if the facts require, and the final detail remains to be seen. 

In the meantime, anything which reduces the additional trauma and uncertainty of families facing such harrowing circumstances must be welcomed.

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