Royalty And Responsibility
Published on 11 April, 2022 | Katie Welton-Dillon
Being described “a good parent” is more than merely a complimentary form of words.
The role of a parent is formative and fundamental in the well-being and development of a child.
It is one reason why the courts take the matter of parental responsibility so very seriously.
After all, parental responsibility is a legal status, defined by the 1989 Children Act as having “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.
Merely living together with a child’s biological parent does not automatically confer such rights or obligations.
Mothers have parental responsibility by virtue of giving birth. Fathers who are not married to the mother at the time that a child is born must either be named on its birth certificate or obtain a court order granting them parental responsibility.
Before issuing such an order, the court makes thorough enquiries to ensure that the arrangement will be in the best interests of the child or children concerned.
It is assisted in that work by an organisation known as the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – or Cafcass, for short (https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/about-cafcass/).
The issue of responsibility arguably comes into starker focus when parents are no longer together.
The objective, of course, is to try and ensure that both parents continue to play a valuable part as a child grows wherever possible.
Nevertheless, parental friction can sometimes make that difficult. It is not uncommon for the court to have to make Specific Issue Orders in relation to matters which require joint parental consent, such as education or medical treatment.
In very rare circumstances, situations also arise where it is not appropriate for a parent to retain parental responsibility.
That is exactly what has happened in a very recent and very high-profile case involving Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and his former wife, Princess Haya bint Al Hussein.
Last December, the Sheikh was ordered to pay her and their two children £554 million at the end of a three-year divorce case (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/bb660d66-61b1-11ec-ab46-99cae2b0f128?shareToken=0f0a88fba17ae7e0eb79b6fa3ffe49b7).
The very next day, the President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Andrew McFarlane, presented his decision following similarly lengthy proceedings relating to the welfare of the children – a 14-year-old girl, Sheikha Jalila, and her 10-year-old brother, Sheikh Zayed.
It was a ruling which has only just been published and is notable because it has resulted in parental responsibility being removed from the children’s father (https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/family-division-judgment-his-highness-sheikh-mohammed-bin-rashid-al-maktoum-v-her-royal-highness-princess-haya-bint-al-hussein-and-others/).
Sir Andrew McFarlane’s judgement explains the background to his decision in plentiful detail.
He noted that there had previously been 15 separate “substantive judgements”, including one which recounted how the Sheikh had given orders for the mobile ‘phones belonging to Princess Haya and her lawyers to be hacked (https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/al-maktoum-judgments/).
Sheikh Bin Rashid had, said Sir Andrew, behaved towards the Princess in a “wholly coercive and controlling manner” which was “abusive to a high, indeed exorbitant, degree”.
In a statement to the court, she also described being “utterly terrified” by the Sheikh’s conduct.
Sir Andrew McFarlane went on to summarise that the co-parenting relationship between them was “entirely bankrupt” with no communication except “via remorseless legal correspondence or during court hearings”.
In addition to the evidence of the “fear, intimidation and harassment” against the Princess set out in his ruling, there one critical element.
He explained that both of the couple’s children “had expressed their wishes and feelings” about what they wanted to happen.
It is a contribution which underlines the role of Cafcass in “making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting”.
In my experience, the views of children can have significant impact in the decisions which courts make.
There is no set age at which children’s views are sought. We must understand that they, like the circumstances in which they and their families find themselves, are individual.
Some children are also more aware of events and more articulate in describing them than others.
In fact, I have found that younger and younger children are having their views taken into account by courts deliberating on these very important matters.
Having heard the views of Princess Haya’s children, Sir Andrew McFarlane’s decision to remove parental responsibility from her former husband sends, what in my view, is a powerful statement.
Although most family court cases have neither the wealth nor the profile of this royal couple, the court has shown that it is willing to use its powers to the full and take parental responsibility away from those who fail to exercise it properly.
Whilst these decisions may be relatively infrequent and only be taken in fairly extreme cases, Sir Andrew McFarlane has made clear that the Family Court will do what is required to safeguard the best interests of children, no matter who their parents are.