Joint Committee On Human Rights Thirteenth Report

Part 3 of the Bill: parenting contracts and related matters

20. Clause 18 of the Bill contains provision for schools to enter into 'parenting contracts' with parents whose children have truanted or been excluded from school. In the contract, a parent would agree to comply with requirements set out in the contract for a specified period. This may include a requirement to attend counselling or guidance sessions. The burden would be balanced by an undertaking by the LEA or school governing body to provide support for the parent for the purpose of complying with the requirements.[14] The purpose of the requirements is to improve the pupil's behaviour, or in the case of a truanting pupil to ensure that the pupil regularly attends the school at which he or she is registered.[15]

21. The Government does not consider that these provisions engage Convention rights. In theory, as the Government points out, entering into a parenting contract would be voluntary,[16] and breach of the contract would not impose any legal liability in contract or tort.[17] In practice, however, there would be pressure on parents to sign, and some legal consequences would follow from a parent's refusal to sign or to comply with the terms of the contract. Refusal would not necessarily lead to an application for a parenting order,[18] but if the child is later excluded from school, the LEA could apply to the magistrates' court for a parenting order imposing requirements by law.[19] If the parent had refused to enter into or to comply with a parenting contract under clause 18, that would make it more likely that a magistrates' court would make the parenting order,[20] which could compel the parent to comply with specified conditions for up to a year and to attend weekly counselling or guidance sessions for up to three months.

22. We are prepared to accept that provision for parenting contracts does not engage Convention rights. However, in our view, the imposition of requirements on parents under a parenting order would certainly engage the right to respect for private and family life under ECHR Article 8.1. It is not necessary for action or legal provisions to impose legally binding obligations or sanctions in order to fall within the ambit of Article 8. Even providing assistance to someone may interfere with the right to respect for private and family life if the assistance is unwelcome.

23. The question is whether it could be justified under Article 8.2. It is not clear what legitimate aim under Article 8.2 is advanced by making someone attend a parenting class or by forcing them to receive counselling against their wills. We asked the Home Secretary what legitimate aim clauses 19 and 20 were designed to advance, and why the Government thought that the measures are necessary for and proportionate to that aim.

24. The Government replied that the measures would advance the prevention of disorder and crime, because those who truant or are excluded from school are twice as likely to offend as regular school attenders. Furthermore, the measures may advance the protection of the health or morals of the children, helping parents, who have a significant role to play in helping children to avoid crime and anti-social behaviour, to discharge their responsibilities.[21]

25. The Government argues that there is a pressing social need for the measures because of the harm to victims, communities and young people caused by juvenile crime and anti-social behaviour. Only 8 per cent of persistent truants obtain five or more good GCSE passes, and early intervention is most effective at preventing offending. "Parenting support has been shown to benefit both the child and the parent."[22]

26. The Government argues that the measures would be proportionate to the need which they would meet because they are voluntary and preventative, helping parents to improve their effectiveness and moving children away from crime and anti-social behaviour by concentrating on improving the child's attendance or behaviour at school.. The interference with private and family life is very limited when balanced against its objectives, seems to be well regarded by most parents who undergo it, and is effective in reducing reconviction rates for the children.[23]

27. Taking all these factors into account, and despite representations referring to research by the Youth Justice Board suggesting that the use of parenting contracts is by no means a 'quick fix' for the problems of truants and their families, we have come to the conclusion that the Government is entitled to take the view that the provisions of clause 18 would be compatible with ECHR Article 8.

28. We take the same view in relation to clauses 24 to 26, which would allow a youth offending team (the inter-disciplinary teams with assorted powers and responsibilities under section 39 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998), to which a child or young person has been referred, to enter into a parenting contract with the parent of the child or young person if any member of the team has reason to believe that the child or young person has engaged or is likely to engage in criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour.

14   Cl. 18(1), (4), (5) Back

15   Cl. 18(6) Back

16   EN para. 45; Annex A to the Home Secretary's letter, p 27 Back

17   Cl. 18(8) Back

18   Annex A to the Home Secretary's letter, p 27 Back

19   Cl. 19.This would complement the power to make parenting orders in proceedings relating to non-educational matters under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 Back

20   Cl. 20(1) Back

21   Annex A to the Home Secretary's letter, p 27 Back

22   ibid Back

23   ibid Back

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