Ashya King’s parents: carers or criminals?

Ashya King’s parents: carers or criminals?

It’s a case that’s stirred a nation and sparked debate over the rights and responsibilities of parents. Family Law solicitor and mediator, Richard Perry, discusses the treatment of the parents in the case of Ashya King.

The recent decision by Mr Justice Baker to discharge the Order making Ashya a Ward of Court, and the earlier withdrawal of the European Arrest Warrant, suggests that Ashya’s parents were more carers than criminals.

The parental responsibility held by the parents allows them to provide consent to medical treatment. The Children Act further clarifies that providing medical treatment in defiance of parental objection without any authority of the Court would be interfering with the child’s rights under the Human Rights Act.

Faced with a situation where Ashya was removed from hospital in the UK without any prior warning, and with no indication that the parents were seeking medical treatment elsewhere, the Local Authority would be duty-bound to take direct action to ensure that Ashya was safeguarded.

Bringing application to the Court to make Ashya a Ward was clearly the appropriate course of action, although applying for a European Arrest Warrant clearly was not.

This perhaps highlights a difficult position that local authorities will sometimes find themselves in, not least brought home by the allegations surrounding the inability of the Rotherham Council to take adequate measures to protect children under their watch. Social workers can leave themselves wide open for criticism for taking action and criticism for not.

In Ashya’s case, the High Court has confirmed that the application for wardship was wholly appropriate. The outcome of enquiries in relation to issues that arose in Rotherham may result in less favourable judicial comment.

What is Wardship?

In short, a Wardship Order allows the Court to take all steps necessary for the protection of the child who would be known as a Ward of Court.

Such application can be made by any person who is deemed to have a genuine interest in the child concerned. Applications can be made by parents, other relatives, by the child him/herself as long as they have sufficient understanding, or by Government bodies such as the Local Authority or an NHS Trust.

Wardship applications are relatively rare and would initially be brought before the High Court, although proceedings can be transferred to a local County Court.

The powers of the Court are wide-ranging and Orders for disclosure of a child’s whereabouts can be made and Orders preventing the removal of the child in question from the UK.

Applications are generally only brought for wardship where urgent issues arise of a significant nature that can't be adequately dealt with under a Children Act application.

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