[“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.