In the case Re C (Children)  EWCA Civ 364, heard last month, the Court of Appeal was asked to to determine whether there was power in this jurisdiction to prevent a parent with parental responsibility from registering a child with the forename of his or her choice and, if so, by what procedural route the court should exercise that power.
The first instance judge, sitting at Swansea Family Court declared that the Local Authority was permitted to restrict the extent to which the mother exercised her parental responsibility so as to prevent her registering the forenames ‘Preacher’ and ‘Cyanide’ and additionally made an injunction order prohibiting the mother from so registering the children or referring to either of them by those forenames in contact.
The mother appealed. The Court of Appeal heard that the mother had a long standing diagnosis of a psychotic disorder and of schizophrenia and her parenting capacity was further impaired by drug and alcohol misuse, chaotic home conditions, abusive male relationships and an inability to work with professionals in an ‘open, honest and consistent manner’.
Lady Justice King, giving the judgment of the Court of Appeal, said that she was satisfied that the court had the power to prevent a parent giving their a child a specific name but that it should be exercised only in the most extreme cases and only with the sanction of a High Court Judge. In this case the Court decided that the name ‘Cyanide’ was capable, without more, of giving the court reasonable cause to believe that the girl would be likely to suffer significant emotional harm.
After reviewing the possible routes available to the court, Lady Justice King said:
“I have reached the conclusion that there is a small category of cases where, notwithstanding the local authority’s powers under section 33(3)(b) CA 1989, the consequences of the exercise of a particular act of parental responsibility are so profound and have such an impact on either the child his or herself, and/or the Article 8 rights of those other parties who share parental responsibility with a local authority that the matter must come before the court for its consideration and determination.”
“In my judgment this is one of those rare cases where the court, in the exercise of its inherent jurisdiction, should intervene to protect the girl twin from the emotional harm that I am satisfied she would suffer if called ‘Cyanide’.”
With regard to her brother, the Court decided that, whilst being called ‘Preacher’ would not of itself be likely to cause the child significant harm:
“It is not unusual for a child, with even the most commonplace name, to ask how his or her name was chosen. This is made more likely in the case of an unusual name, such as ‘Preacher’ and in circumstances where the children concerned are not living with their natural parents. The only possible response that his carers would be able to make in response to such a question, would be to tell the boy twin that it was the name that his birth mother had chosen for him. This would lead to the inevitable question from the girl twin as to whether her name had also been chosen for her by her mother and, if not why not? She would undoubtedly ask what name her mother had given to her and why it had been changed. The outcome of such a predictable conversation would be to expose the girl twin to a significant part of the very harm the court seeks to prevent; she would know not only that her mother had chosen to call her ‘Cyanide’, but also to have to come to terms with the fact that she was to have been named after a notorious poison, whilst her twin brother was to be given the name of a respected member of society, ‘Preacher’.”