Proposals to remove the automatic parental right of men who have fathered a child through rape – set up by a Sheffield MP and Rotherham child abuse survivor – have cleared their first parliamentary hurdle.
Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh's Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts Bill also seeks to allow an inquiry into the handling by family courts of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls in child arrangement cases.
Her Bill emerged following the case of Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of Rotherham's child exploitation scandal, who called for a law change
after revealing the man who raped her as a teenager had been given a chance to play a role in her son's life.
MPs heard Miss Woodhouse gave evidence against Arshid Hussain, the ringleader of a notorious child abuse gang who was jailed for 35 years
in 2016, and Rotherham Council approached him to ‘encourage contact’ with the child without notifying her.
Ms Haigh said: "It is inconceivable to anyone with any sympathy, empathy or a drop of common sense that Hussain was effectively encouraged to
apply to the courts.
"Had he been so minded, he could have used the court as a weapon to cross-examine Sammy, to traumatise her and her children all over again."
The Sheffield Heeley MP added: "It is difficult to imagine how anyone could have posed a greater threat to Sammy or her son than Arshid Hussain, that is why the law clearly needs to change.
"We need to flip the presumption that anyone who has fathered a child through rape should be encouraged to apply for access regardless of the
risk they present, to removing that automatic right and allowing the courts to only grant access in exceptional circumstances if it is in the clear interests of the child."
Ms Haigh also raised concerns about the lack of data collected to understand how widespread the situation is of convicted rapists gaining
access to their children.
She said Women's Aid has found examples of family courts ‘prioritising domestic abusers' rights over survivors and children's rights to life
and to be free from degrading treatment".
Ms Haigh added campaigners and survivors believe contact is still being granted ‘inappropriately’.
She said: "I believe we need an independent inquiry to establish the level of this discrimination in the courts and what needs to be done
to address it."