A father who murders a mother nevertheless remains a father and his paternal rights have to be considered. However, as a High Court case showed, it is the welfare of children affected by such crimes that is always uppermost in family judges’ minds.
The case concerned a little girl who was just six weeks old when her father killed her mother. He subsequently pleaded guilty to murder and was jailed for life. From his prison cell, however, he asked to be sent photographs of his daughter and annual reports on her progress. That was resisted by the girl’s guardian and by the local authority which bore responsibility for her care.
In ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the girl had been effectively orphaned by her father’s crime. Her parents were not married when she was born and she would be approaching adulthood by the earliest date on which her father might be released from prison. Father and daughter were to all intents and purposes strangers to one another and he had very sensibly not requested direct contact with her.
The father had expressed commitment to his daughter and the Court accepted that he should be informed of significant events in her life, such as medical conditions. However, it would not be in her best interests for him to receive photos of her as she grows up. Providing him with annual reports would impinge upon the girl’s privacy and such information to which he could be given access was likely to be so anodyne as to be of no real benefit to him. Such limited information would be likely to trigger the father’s curiosity, leading him to search for more.
Although the mother’s murder had resulted in significant press coverage, the Court declined to order, at least at this stage, that the girl’s surname be changed. An order was, however, made that enabled the local authority to refuse contact between father and daughter. The Court praised other members of the family for their clear devotion to the girl’s welfare and approved arrangements whereby she will be fostered by her maternal uncle and his partner.