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(Court of Appeal, Gloster, King, David Richards LJJ, 14 April 2016)
Public law children – Parental responsibility – Naming – Mother mentally unwell – Sought to name her children Cyanide and Preacher – Whether the local authority could prevent her from doing so
The mother’s appeal from a decision preventing her from naming her children ‘Cyanide’ and ‘Preacher’ was dismissed.
The mother suffered from psychotic disorder and schizophrenia. Her three older children had been made subject to care orders and had been removed from her care. Care proceedings were now ongoing in relation to her 8-month-old twins.
Interim care orders were made shortly after their birth. While still in hospital the midwife informed the local authority that the mother wished to name the twins ‘Preacher’ and ‘Cyanide’. The local authority’s attempts to dissuade the mother from doing so were unsuccessful. An application was made under s 100 of the Children Act 1989 to restrict the mother’s parental responsibility to prevent her from naming the children. At an early case management hearing the mother undertook not to register the children’s birth until the issue of their names was resolved.
At first instance the deputy High Court judge found that the relief sought was not available under s 100 of the Act but given that registering the birth and naming the children were aspects of parental responsibility for the purposes of s 33(3)(b) .
The judge held that the local authority was permitted to restrict the extent to which the mother could exercise her parental responsibility to prevent her from registering the twins with her chosen forenames. An injunction was made preventing the mother from doing so or referring to them by those names during contact pursuant to s 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. The mother appealed.
The Court of Appeal agreed that registering of births and naming of children were acts of parental responsibility and that the local authority had powers to intervene. However, a court could under the inherent jurisdiction intervene in these circumstances and the appropriate statutory route was s 100 of the Children Act 1989 as opposed to s 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981.
The choosing of a name for a child by a parent with parental responsibility and thereafter the act of complying with the duty of the mother and the father to register the birth were acts of parental responsibility. A local authority did not need permission to restrict those acts of parental responsibility.
Pursuant to s 33(3)(b) of the Children Act 1989 the local authority had the power to overrule a parent in relation to forename. The judge below erred in making a declaration that the local authority was ‘permitted’ to restrict the extent to which the mother exercised her parental responsibility since it already had such a power.
A decision made by the local authority under s 33(3)(b) of the 1989 Act had to be a proportionate interference with the European Convention rights in play. Given the degree of interference in this instance the local authority had to bring the issue before the court despite the fact that there was no procedural route for it to do so.
The proper route for cases such as this was under the inherent jurisdiction. The court below found that the test of significant harm had not been met and that the inherent jurisdiction could not be invoked. However, the Court of Appeal found to the contrary that in some cases the giving of a particular name to a child could give the court reasonable cause to believe that absent its intervention, the child was likely to suffer significant emotional harm. The name ‘Cyanide’ was such a name.In respect of the name ‘Preacher’ although it would not cause the court to find that it would cause the child significant harm but applying the balancing interests test set out in Birmingham City Council v H (No 2)  1 FLR 883 it would not be in the children’s interests for one twin to have a name chosen for him by his birth mother, whereas the other did not. The judge’s decision in that respect was not wrong.
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