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Can “Cyanide” be a name?

Date posted: 6 May 2016

Last month saw the press report on a landmark case in the Court of Appeal where a mother was prohibited from naming her children ‘Cyanide’ and ‘Preacher.’

 

Judgment in this case was given on 14th April 2016 in the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) by Lady Justice Gloster, Lady Justice King, and Lord Justice David Richards. The initial application was made by the relevant local authority.

 

The case involved a mother with a long standing history of mental health issues. She had previously had three children removed from her care and the case concerned her fourth and fifth children, who were twins. The twins were made the subjects of interim care orders shortly after birth in favour of the relevant local authority. Whilst in hospital, the relevant local authority was informed of the mother’s intention to register the children’s birth with the names ‘Cyanide’ and ‘Preacher.’ The local authority made an application to the High Court to prevent the children from being so named.

 

The High Court ruled that the local authority could restrict the parents’ choice of name. The High Court also made an injunction prohibiting the mother from registering the children or referring to either of them by those names.

 

The mother appealed. The Court of Appeal agreed with the decision of the High Court that the registration of births and naming of children was an act of parental responsibility and stated that the local authority had powers to prevent this under the interim care orders. However, the Court of Appeal stated that an application did need to be made to the Court to sanction any restriction of a parents’ ability to choose their child’s names.

 

S3 of the Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as meaning “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.” Registering the birth of a child is therefore an act under parental responsibility.

 

S2 of the Children Act 1989 specifies who automatically has parental responsibility for a child: –

  • A mother automatically has parental responsibility for a child.
  • A father has parental responsibility for a child if: – he was legally married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth; the child was born after December 2003 and he is registered as the father on the child’s birth certificate; he acquires it with the consent of the mother by formal agreement; he acquires it by a Court Order.

 

In Family Court proceedings brought by a local authority, the local authority will also have parental responsibility for a child if they have an interim care order or a care order. This is under s33(3) of the Children Act 1989.

 

This was a difficult but ultimately correct decision for the Court to make.

 

The Court had to carefully consider the mother’s human rights and right to exercise her parental responsibility against the welfare and best interests of the children. The Court was clear that naming the child ‘Cyanide’ would give the Court “reasonable cause to believe that she would be likely to suffer significant harm.”