RE C (CHILDREN) (2016)

The High Court could invoke its inherent jurisdiction to prevent a parent with parental responsibility from registering their child with the forename of their choice. The power was to be exercised only in the most extreme cases where the parent’s choice of forename gave rise to reasonable cause to believe that the child would suffer significant harm.
A mother appealed against an injunction preventing her from registering her twin children with the forenames “Preacher” and “Cyanide”.

Shortly after their birth in May 2015, the twins were made the subject of interim care orders and were placed in foster care pending the formulation of a long-term plan. The mother had long-standing mental health problems and the father was unknown. When the mother indicated that she wished to name her son “Preacher” and her daughter “Cyanide”, the local authority asked the court to invoke its inherent jurisdiction under the Children Act 1989 s.100 to prevent her from registering those names. The judge concluded that he could not exercise the inherent jurisdiction. However, he declared that the local authority was permitted to use its power under s.33(3)(b) to limit the extent to which the mother could exercise her parental responsibility, and thereby prevent her registering her chosen names. Pursuant to the Senior Courts Act 1981 s.37, he made an injunction to that effect.

The issues were (1) whether the naming of a child and the registration of his birth were acts of parental responsibility; (2) if they were, whether the local authority could use its s.33(3)(b) power to prevent a parent from naming and registering their child with the name of their choice; (3) whether the court could use its inherent jurisdiction to prevent the registration of a forename, or to change the name once registered.

HELD: (1) The choosing of a name for a child and the parents’ compliance with their duty under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 s.2 to give the registrar the information required to register the child’s birth were acts of parental responsibility, D (Children) (Care: Change of Forename), Re [2003] 1 F.L.R. 339 applied (see paras 52-54 of judgment). 

(2) Pursuant to s.33(3)(b)of the 1989 Act, the local authority was empowered to limit the parents’ power to make major decisions regarding the child’s life, where such limitation was necessary to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. The s.33(3)(b) power was limited by s.33(6) and s.33(7), which set out certain matters that were too significant to be determined without either a court order or the consent of all the parties. While the child’s surname was one such matter, there was nothing in s.33(6), s.33(7) or s.33(9) to prevent a local authority from using its s.33(3)(b) power to overrule a parent in relation to a forename. Thus, the local authority was empowered to overrule the mother’s choice of forename (paras 57-66). 

(3) Although s.33(3)(b) empowered the local authority to prevent the mother from naming the twins as she wished, the seriousness of the interference with her rights under ECHR art.8 demanded that it should exercise that power only with the approval of the court. However, s.33 provided no procedural route by which the local authority could come before the court in respect of a forename. Therefore, in those highly unusual and rare cases in which the parent’s chosen forename went beyond the unusual, bizarre or foolish and gave reasonable cause to believe that the child was likely to be caused significant harm, the proper course was for the local authority to ask the High Court to exercise its inherent jurisdiction to sanction its use of the s.33(3)(b) power, B (A Child) (Medical Treatment), Re [2008] EWHC 1996 (Fam), [2009] 1 F.L.R. 1264 and T (A Minor) (Wardship: Medical Treatment), Re [1997] 1 W.L.R. 242 considered. The use of the power would not be sanctioned without the court being satisfied that its failure to intervene would be likely to cause the child significant harm (paras 75-77, 85, 90-107).

(4) While the name “Preacher” was arguably not objectionable, the name “Cyanide” was capable of giving the court reasonable cause to believe that the girl would be likely to suffer significant harm. The potential benefit to the boy of having the name chosen for him by his mother was outweighed by the potential detriment to the girl in their deriving their names from two different sources. Were the children to ask where their names came from, the girl would learn that her mother had wanted to name her after a poison and her brother after a respected member of society. That would expose her to the harm that the court was seeking to avoid, Birmingham City Council v H [1993] 1 F.L.R. 883 applied (paras 108-116). 

Appeal dismissed

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