The Secretary of State for Justice yesterday announced the Government’s intention to amend the Victims and Prisoners Bill to introduce what has become known as “Jade’s law”. This follows a campaign by the family of Jade Ward, who was killed by her estranged ex-partner in 2021.

While no draft amendments to the Bill have currently been released, the Government’s announcement indicates we should expect the amendments to include the following:

  • A parent who kills a partner or ex-partner with whom they have children will automatically have their parental responsibility suspended upon sentencing;
  • This will apply to anyone convicted of murder or voluntary manslaughter;
  • The suspension will be reviewed “swiftly” by a judge to ensure it is in the best interests of the child; and
  • There will be an automatic exemption put in place in cases where a domestic abuse victim kills their abuser.

While details of the proposed legislation remain sparse, it is difficult to consider what impact this will have on how local authorities manage safeguarding arrangements for children in this situation.

For some time, in such cases, it has been considered that local authorities should give urgent consideration to issuing care proceedings. This is based on the guidance from Hogg J in Re A and B [2010] EWHC 3824 (Fam). While this is not, and has never been, a requirement for the local authority to issue care proceedings, there has been a strong judicial indication that such cases should come before the Family Court for review urgently. Absent an alternative procedural mechanism, it may fall to the relevant local authority to issue proceedings.

We await further details and will provide an update once they are released. However, it seems to us that it is important to consider the following:

  • How will the suspension of parental responsibility operate in practice?
  • Will there be either a time limit for the suspension to expire or mechanism for an offender to regain parental responsibility?
  • Will there be any kind of interim suspension for a person charged or remanded pending trial?
  • Will the review of the suspension of parental responsibility be by a judge of the Family Court or the criminal court? If the criminal court will the judges have powers to make any other orders under the Children Act 1989 when conducting the review?
  • Will the responsibility fall to the local authority to refer the matter to the Family Court for a review of the suspension of parental responsibility?
  • Will Cafcass be involved in the review process at all, either as a children and family reporter or with any relevant children being a party to the proceedings with a Children’s Guardian and legal representation?
  • How will the exemption for domestic abuse victims operate in practice? Will they need to prove domestic abuse?

We will provide a further update once the Government has released more details of the proposed amendments. 

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