Justice Secretary Says Murderers Will Automatically Lose Parenting Rights

Alex Chalk plans to automatically remove parenting rights to people who are convicted of murdering their children’s other parent.
Justice Secretary Says Murderers Will Automatically Lose Parenting Rights
Undated images of murderer Russell Marsh (L) and his victim Jade Ward (R). The Justice Secretary Alex Chalk announced plans to introduce Jade's Law at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on Oct. 3, 2023. (North Wales Police)
Chris Summers

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk has announced plans to remove parental rights from people who have been convicted of murdering their children’s other parent.

The so-called Jade’s Law is named after Jade Ward, who was stabbed and strangled to death at her home in Shotton, north Wales, in August 2021 by her partner, Russell Marsh, after she told him she wanted to end their relationship.

Under current laws parents have to be consulted on all decisions affecting their children’s health, education, and travel, even if they are convicted murderers and have killed the child’s mother or father.

Mr. Marsh was jailed for a minimum of 25 years for Ms. Ward’s murder but her mother, Karen Robinson, said he demanded school reports and other information about their grandchild.

Ms. Robinson told the BBC: “Knowing that he had rights and he was sending messages through his lawyer, making it known he’s still around and still in control, was horrible.”

Mr. Chalk—a former criminal barrister—told the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on Tuesday: “I want to right another injustice. I am clear that if a father murders the mother of his children he should expect to lose his parental rights.”

“That’s why today I can announce that we will legislate to suspend those rights from those who murdered their partners, so we will enact Jade’s Law, named after Jade Ward who was tragically murdered by her husband and his children, and their grandparents are now subject to attend to exert control by the perpetrator from behind bars,” he added.

Mr. Chalk said, “No family should have to go through this, and thanks to their efforts, we will protect children and families by making their law a reality.”

An automatic suspension of parental responsibility for someone convicted of killing their co-parent is set to be enshrined in the upcoming Victims and Prisoners Bill.

While much of his speech had been leaked in advance, he did make one surprise announcement.

UK May Rent ‘Overseas Capacity’ for Prisoners

Mr. Chalk announced plans to consider housing British prisoners abroad when he said he wanted to follow the “Norwegian example” and consider “renting overseas capacity.”

Between 2015 and 2018 Norway rented prison space in the Netherlands, meaning Norwegian convicted criminals served their sentences in Holland.

There are currently a record 84,100 male prisoners in jails in England and Wales and figures published on Tuesday suggested prisons are only 258 places short of maximum capacity.

In a statement the Ministry of Justice said it would “enter exploratory discussions with potential partner countries in Europe to rent prison space abroad.”

The ministry added: “Agreements would mean that prisoners in the UK could be moved to another country’s prison estate provided the facilities, regime and rehabilitation provided meets British standards. This is similar to steps taken by Belgium and Norway which have used foreign prison places in the Netherlands in the last decade.”

Although he did not mention it in his speech, Mr. Chalk is also going ahead with plans to increase the number of convicted murderers who are eligible for a whole life order.

In a statement on the Ministry of Justice website it said, “People who have committed a crime but are yet to be sentenced will face the possibility of being given a whole life order, even if the offence is committed before future legislation commences.”

Reforms to Give Whole Life for Single Sadistic Murders

The statement added: “Under these reforms a single murder committed with sexual or sadistic conduct could receive a whole life order while current laws require two or more murders of this nature.”
The move follows Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement in August that the law would be changed so judges are required to impose whole life orders on the most depraved killers, except in extremely limited circumstances.

Mr. Sunak said: “The public rightly believe that the most despicable killers should face life behind bars. That’s why we are ensuring life means life for the most serious cases without the chance of parole.”

The decision will not affect convicted murderers who have already been sentenced, such as Colin Pitchfork, who has been cleared for release by the Parole Board.

Mr. Pitchfork was jailed for life for raping and strangling Lynda Mann, 15, in Leicestershire in 1983, and Dawn Ashworth, who was also 15 years old, three years later. He was given a minimum tariff of 30 years, which he has now served.

PA Media contributed to this report.
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
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