The heartbreaking case of Jade Ward, having been murdered by her estranged husband Russell Marsh, has led the Flintshire family to campaign for "Jade's Law" so as to have an automatic suspension of parental responsibility from a parent who has been found guilty of murdering the other parent. 

Whilst it might seem obvious that Mr Marsh will not have custody of the parties' four children whilst he serves his minimum of 25 years in prison before he is eligible for parole, he will still retain parental responsibility. 

People with parental responsibility are entitled to have a say in major decisions about a child, such as: 

  • where the child should live;
  • where they should go to school;
  • what religion they should practice;
  • what name they should have;
  • the giving or withholding of medical treatment; and
  • dealing with their money or property.

Whilst parental responsibility does not entitle someone to interfere with day-to-day decisions such as what the child wears, their hobbies or choice of TV programmes etc, in this matter I am able to see why the family of Ms Ward would find the idea of deferring to Mr Marsh in respect of major decisions as unpalatable. 

So what steps can they take?

Unless a child is adopted, the removal of parental responsibility is extremely rare. In my view, for these steps to be taken 'automatically' when a parent has killed the other parent, it would require an act of legislation. 

In my view, unless or until legislation is brought into effect, it is not certain that Ms Ward's family would be successful in removing Mr Marsh's parental responsibility. It is perhaps more likely that they would be successful in restricting his parental responsibility so as to allow the children's carer to make unencumbered decisions. 

Aside from their campaign, the family of Ms Ward will need to take their own steps to regularise the situation for the four children. Assuming court proceedings have not yet been commenced/finalised, it is highly probable that nobody aside from Mr Marsh currently holds parental responsibility for the children. This will need to be remedied so that an adult can make decisions for and about the children. 

Whoever is caring for the children will want to apply to the court for either a Child Arrangements Order for the children to live with them or alternatively they could apply for a Special Guardianship Order. This could be made in conjunction with a Prohibited Steps Order to restrict Mr Marsh's parental responsibility and to limit his role in their life. In my view, any application made is likely to be successful given that it is inherently in the best interests of the children to have an adult able to make those decisions for and about them without having to consult Mr Marsh. 

Clearly, this is a very painful and sensitive time for the family and friends of Ms Ward. Additional litigation in respect of the children is not ideal but unfortunately necessary to ensure the children are safeguarded moving forward and someone appropriate can make decisions about them. 

All here at Anthony Collins Solicitors wish the family the best and hope that they can find strength in their love for Ms Ward and her children.