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Judge orders A father to take his child to Mass


[“A father”, not as I’d wrongly typed originally “His father”  – a Judge who ordered his own father to take his child (the Judge) to Mass would be legally impossible and is a sort of mix between Judge John Deed (for impropriety) and Doogie Howser MD (for a Judge who is still a child)  ]

This is a story in the Daily Telegraph


The gist of it is that His Honour Judge Orrell ordered a father in private law proceedings that when the child is with him, he will take the child to Catholic mass.  The order applies to Christmas only. The father is not Catholic, but the mother is.

“If the children are with their father at Christmas he will undertake that they will attend the Christmas mass.”

The Daily Telegraph say that they have seen the Court transcripts (I have not) and that the Judge discussed his own Catholicism during the hearing.


So, a number of quick points on this.


1. I haven’t been able to find a judgment on this case on any of the law websites.

2. Initially, my thinking was that this was an order that had been made in the run-up to Christmas this year, hence the topicality of the story as we are now late January.

3. The article does tuck away, in the midst of its hatchet-job on His Honour Judge Orrell, that the father involved appealed this case unsuccessfully and also failed in a judicial review challenge. (I haven’t been able to find either of those reported). I’d suspect that the order in question might be a bit older than December 2014 then, to have got the appeal and judicial review heard by now.  In fact, when you read the detail of the article, the order complained of was in 2009. But it remains in force.

4. If the appeal transcript does come to light (it may have been refused permission on the papers – you don’t always get a published judgment for that) I’ll put a link up to it so that we can read it for ourselves.

5. I’ll assume that the sub-headline “Child care proceedings challenged after judge tells father he has a legal requirement to take his sons to Catholic mass” which is wrong on both the nature of the proceedings and the legal requirement issue, is the work of a sub-editor and not the author of the piece.

6. The Court does have power, if two parents are arguing about religious upbringing of a child, to make orders stipulating how the child’s faith is to be observed.  If, as the article claims, this was not a request by the mother, but of the Judge’s own motion, that would be unusual  (not unlawful, but unusual).

7. If, as the article claims, the Judge had made the decision because of his own attitude to faith and imposing his own values on the case, that would have been something that would have troubled the Court of Appeal.  Without seeing the transcript, or the Court of Appeal decision, I can’t tell you definitively whether what has claimed happened.  To be fair to this father, the fact that his appeal was unsuccessful does not NECESSARILY mean that his claim was not accurate, he might have lodged his appeal in a flawed way or not highlighted that particular aspect.

8. There is an interesting issue about whether, when deciding a child’s religious upbringing, one parent’s lack of faith is to be respected as much as the other parent’s faith. Are they on an equal footing for the law, or does the person with faith have a head-start?


An interesting case, I wish that we knew a little more. The appeal judgment would help enormously.

The bald order does seem harsh, for a parent who does not believe in Catholicism, but without knowing the circumstances, we don’t know, for example, whether Christmas mass was such an important issue for the mother / child, that directing that father take them was the only way of getting him to have contact on Christmas Day. It might have been a trade-off.

As someone who does not follow a faith, I’d have similar feelings to this father if a Judge imposed on me a requirement to go to church, so I have sympathy with his position and objection, and I think that this is a newsworthy story – I just wish that we had the appeal judgment to get more understanding of the factual and legal issues involved and why the decision was upheld.



About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

21 responses

  1. It doesn’t say the age of the child, but surely this is covered under art 12 and 14 of the convention of the rights to the child?

    I’m glad you posted this … Your timing is perfect, please follow up if you do find the judgement, thank you in advance

  2. Family torn apart in 15-minute court case by Judge James Orrell …

    Lord Justice Thorpe said on Appeal “I am completely aghast at this case.There is nothing more serious than a removal hearing,because the parents are so prejudiced in proceedings thereafter.Once you have lost a child it is very difficult to get a child back.” The hearing above lasted only 15 minutes after a doctor “expressed the opinion” that bruising in the ear of one of the three children looked as though it was caused by pinching .The parents were not allowed to give any evidence!Their three children had all been forcibly removed until they were ordered to be returned by Lord Justice Thorpe on appeal.

    With a judge like that who can be surprised at anything he does??

  3. From what you say, it appears that father only has to undertake that the children attend mass – he does not have to attend with them. So he could probably find a relative or someone that he and the children know and trust to take them instead of him, if he feels that strongly or he just attends and goes with the flow as so many other non-believers do.

    I hope that you find the full details of the case though

  4. Yes, the order was probably made in 2009. And the Telegraph story is badly written and makes it sound like a recent case.

    The reasons for this apparent bias towards the person with faith are not clear. The father has probably been fighting the order for some time and the National Secular Society has decided to highlight the case to open up debate.

  5. Leaving aside one’s own spiritual propensities, which I think one should and indeed as your commentary on the judge also proposes, there is surely more to consideration of this case than the sensitivies of the parent who is the subject of the order.

    Presumably the father knew of the mother’s (I’m assuming it wasn’t a same sex relationship) religious persuasion prior to the act which conceived the child in question. Therefore he knew that traditionally within the Jewish faith and the Roman Catholic sect, the child is brought up in the faith of the mother. If he didn’t know then I wonder why not. Perhaps like most people about to embark on reproduction he thought that Love Would Conquer All. Or perhaps he didn’t think at all.

    Which leads me on to the plan that I shall introduce once I sweep to power. Which is that prior to birth all prospective parents will be required to complete a parenting plan along the lines of the wonderful booklet (first edition) that the Department of Schools Children and Families issued for separated parents to complete. The 1st edition was a workbook but the pathetic 2nd edition was merely an informative booklet. Child benefit and child support will be conditional on completion of this and it will not be possible to opt out by not claiming. Other compulsory measures will ensure that this takes place. The booklet will be completed in no less than two and no more than three sessions with a trained family mediator. I’d like to make completion compulsory before conception but given the weird circumstances in which such acts sometimes take place even I accept that’s too much to hope for.

    The other part of my Directive will be that couples who live together will have to undertake financial mediation sessions within the first 12 months of cohabiting (which will be a loosely interpreted term, before you start wriggling on that one). I can expand on the details of this if required but be assured that it will be compulsory. And I don’t care what the Daily Telegraph thinks of all this. Once I’m in charge a nanny state will be the least of that particular organisation’s worries.

    It has always seemed to me that the conception of a child ought in all fairness to take as least long as the subsequent child arrangements proceedings. That would sort the sheep from the goats.

    • Hello … Is that David Cameron in covert operation?
      I really hope your post is a mickey take, but a very sad one regardless, considering what you described is nothing short of orgasmic to the ears of those with an agenda to take as many children as possible.

      Can I suggest some bedtime reading for you? George Orwell’s 1984, written in 1928 I believe (or there abouts) quite the premonition – but we have this wonderful book as a warning from Georgie, wonderful man, who recognises the need to sort the sheep from the goats, thankfully the sheep are slowly allowing themselves to be led to slaughter (hopefully before they procreate!)

    • Norma, I see your point and one imagines that a devout Catholic and a strong atheist are probably in for choppy waters in their relationship anyway. But, what if both parents share a faith, but then one loses their faith after the child is born? Is the parent who lacks faith entitled to less consideration of their viewpoint than the one with it? Or the opposite situation – two people who have no faith find each other, have a baby, then one becomes spiritually awakened and wants their child to be brought up in that new faith?

      • Then you either knuckle under or… go to court.


        I prefer to offer mediation because I think that is more constructive. I also think that having to think about these things in advance concentrates the mind.

  6. I really don’t understand the article. Is it actually an undertaking not an order? The court can’t make the father give the undertaking–they are promises to the court and he must voluntarily give them. The wording of the article does suggest it is not an order.

    If it is an undertaking in 2009 you would think the simplest course would be apply back to be discharged from the undertaking and possibly request that in light of HHJ Orrell’s comments he should not hear that application.

    • I was assuming that it was an order, because of the appeal – although you CAN appeal an order that you consented to, the circumstances in which that’s permissable are really limited, and there couldn’t be an undertaking unless father agreed to give it.

      Assuming that we aren’t talking about a baby and that the child was old enough to go to mass in 2009, so say was born in 2005, and that father has contact every other Christmas Eve, then we are really talking about the order disappearing once the child is old enough to say “I’m not going”, so in three years time, so at the very worst we are talking about two more visits to Christmas Mass.

      [I know, I know, it’s the principle – but in a pragmatic viewpoint, this order will have applied at most 6 times over the child’s lifetime and we’re nearly at the end of it]

      • Either way, from the perspective of the civil (as opposed to family) courts, the undertaking as quoted would be objectionable in that it imposes an absolute obligation on the father that he might reasonably be unable to discharge: what if, before the undertaking expires, the child becomes old enough to refuse to go and does so in strong terms, or is simply too ill to go to church?

        It might be said that in those circumstances the point would never be taken but where contempt is concerned that isn’t really good enough. (I have a vivid memory of Andrew Smith J getting quite irate on this point once),

        (Or are all these obligations subject to some limit requiring only all reasonable efforts: I imagine this problem must come up frequently in children cases?)

      • Ashamed to be British

        I’m having this problem myself t the moment, specific issues raised, but no specific orders, so one party is being as obstructive as possible to the detriment of the children, but can’t take it back as they have not breached an order.
        I will find a way if it kills me.

  7. Nothing really to say on post, I’m just being a little pedant 🙂

    What did the Judge order his father to take his child (who? the Judge or maybe a sibling of the Judge or even a half sibling) to church?

  8. “8. There is an interesting issue about whether, when deciding a child’s religious upbringing, one parent’s lack of faith is to be respected as much as the other parent’s faith. Are they on an equal footing for the law, or does the person with faith have a head-start?”

    Neither. Parents should have the duty to provide their children with a platform to form their own views, not the right to impress particular views upon them.

  9. Pingback: Religion and Law round-up – 25th January | Law & Religion UK

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