Operation of the Family Courts - Justice Committee Contents

Written evidence from PDJ Harrison (FC 15)



That the concept of Parental Responsibility and it's application be extended to include persons who have demonstrated a significant period of commitment to the safety, welfare and support of a child in the development of talents and life chances.

That the application of this area of the law should be a priority for review.


1.1  Even if a child lives with a person who acts as parent for a period of years this does not confer any weight to their view or legal state of parental responsibility or indeed any rights at all including the right to be heard in court or be involved in mediation. As a result someone with legally recognised parental responsibility can remove the child from a sound environment and block contact. This was a personal experience and the solicitor's attempt to achieve court attendance by direct appeal to the judge was rebuffed.

The result is that a child can suffer a traumatic transfer from a home with lots of developmental activities to a very different environment including smokers and pub attendance. Such a child may also have to transfer from a school with excellent performance and behaviour to a very poorly performing school with a vastly different cultural environment. My knowledge of a child who went through this experience includes being told that she became very distressed and withdrawn.

Despite Government guidelines on the importance of a child's life chances and this point being heavily emphasised by Harriott Harmon the result in this case was a destruction of life chances and although the child referred to the surrogate father as "the best daddy" he was never interviewed with the child.

Had Government Guidelines on Life Chances been followed and the interpretation of parental responsibility was not such a rigid concept the result may have been different. It does seem that systems are designed to keep things simple and convenient for the adult administrators at the expense of serious injustice and the production of deeply disturbed children and social misfits.



That the full Cafcass report is more widely available especially to solicitors representing parties with a legitimate interest before any court action and that the Cafcass officer involved should be in court to answer questions.

That the Cafcass report be not subject to total gagging after proceedings.


2.1  I understand from the mother who was in court that the judge phoned the Cafcass officer, who was not in court, for information before making any decision.

2.2  Any link between Cafcass and education was in my experience remarkable for it's absence. (Photographs of a happy child doing a range of educational and social activities were dismissed as snapshots of the moment and of no worth).

2.3  Recent changes appear to have made no difference.



That the presumption that children will be better off with their biological parents be implemented with much greater sensitivity to the life chances of the child and to established relationships.


3.1  I have worked all my life in areas of deprivation and have noted that biological parents who would appear entirely unsuitable because of their drug or drink habits, associated friends and attitudes are granted custody despite the obvious life long disadvantages even dangers. By contrast, persons who wish to adopt are subject to a very long and most rigorous assessment. Foster parents can have children removed to live with the biological parents who again seem less suitable for the child's life chances.



The question of access and other rights should be matters for mediation outside the birth certificate process but the mediation result must have penalties in law. The practice of issuing birth certificates with only one parental name be discouraged and that there be a stronger requirement for the names of both parents.


4.1  Working in areas of deprivation I have been privy to conversations that make it very clear that there are families and networks of women whose target is not to have a father's name on the birth certificate. It does seem that the authorities are mildly complicit in this matter and this should be discouraged no matter what reasons are given for not doing so.

4.2  The father may have to pursue potentially expensive DNA testing and court action to establish any rights in law. This tends to be against a background of the mother supporting simple agreement as a way forward and suggesting court action is unnecessary. Sadly it seems simple agreements with no penalties are often broken and I have observed that the distress to the disenfranchised male can be personality changing and life destruction.

September 2011

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Prepared 14 July 2011