Later this year, the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 comes into force, and was an ideal opportunity to redress the current discrimination of unmarried fathers who didn’t gain automatic PRR (Parental Rights and Responsibilities) [unmarried fathers with children born on or after May 4th 2006 and are named on the child’s birth certificate do have automatic PRR]
Parental Rights and Responsibilities afford parents not just responsibilities in the upbringing of their child, but certain rights, most notably the right to have the child live with them, or the right to maintain contact with the child. (Children Act (Scotland) 1995 (s)2).
Without PRR, a father can not be considered to be a “relevant person” with regard to court hearings involving their child/ren (mothers automatically have PRR, and therefore are automatically classed as a relevant person). It is astounding that a father without PRR has to face a lengthy, costly and wholly unnecessary legal procedure to gain status as a “relevant person” – even if that father has in place a contact order or other (s)11 order, or where the father has a longstanding and close relationship with his child. The onus is on the father to prove that he has an active involvement with his child/ren. The case of Principal Reporter v K  highlights this lengthy procedure. This is particularly concerning and unsatisfactory where allegations have been made against a father like K, who is afforded neither the opportunity to refute the allegations, nor any right to appeal against a decision. . However, the Supreme Court, in K’s case, was concerned that K had to overcome a “burdensome procedural hurdle”, given the potential time and costs involved. It could be argued that such a hurdle has not been removed by the Act. Where the unmarried father has established a family life with the child, there does not appear to be any good reason why he should not have an automatic right to participate in the decision-making process affecting his child.
As things stand, unmarried fathers without PRR will continue to have to apply for “relevant person” status, as this new Act has omitted to address this properly, instead relying on the discretion of Ministers to apply discretion under (s)200, which continues to exclude from its application, unmarried fathers with no PRRs, but who have a contact order or specific issue order under s 11 of the 1995 Act. With no opportunity for the courts to “read down” and apply a creative interpretation of the legislation to include unmarried fathers within the definition, as occurred in Principal Reporter v K, some may argue that the new definition is in fact regressive.
Over the border, The Lib Dems are making moves to block plans to change existing proposals so that all birth certificates are required to include the name of the father – married or unmarried. The Families Minister (and feminist) Sarah Teather claims that such a a change in law is unnecessary and is refusing to agree to the proposed implementation. How fantastic – a Families minister that doesn’t like fathers. Currently around 50,000 mothers a year [in England/Wales] fail to include the child’s father on the birth certificate, and therefore denying the child the security of being formally acknowledged by both parents. The Lib Dem have claimed that such a change in law would mean that children would be “tarred by being permanently associated with undesirable fathers and undermine the rights of mothers whether or not to acknowledge paternity” – ah, we are back again to the rights of mothers. Its quite simple ladies, if you don’t want to have a child with a man, don’t have unprotected sex with him. These proposed changes, of course, don’t apply to those who have a child as the result of rape or from sperm donation.
Fathers in general are viewed as second-class citizens by those who wish to undermine the vital role fathers play in their children’s lives, and unmarried fathers are at the bottom of the heap. The continuing discrimination of unmarried fathers is abysmal, and one that urgently needs to be addressed. Those couples who choose to not seek state sanctioning of their relationship, and not marry, are disadvantaged from the start, from a legal viewpoint, and fathers in particular. But regardless of whether parents are (or were) married to each other or not, that should not impact upon the relationship between father and child, legally or otherwise. By not naming a father on a birth certificate, and with little recourse for a father for have the birth re-registered (especially where the mother will not give consent), unmarried fathers are severely disadvantaged, and the child is denied official and formal acknowledgement of their paternal bloodline. Yet again, it is mothers who hold all the cards, and there are those in Government who are assisting them. Shameful.