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GLOUCESTERSHIRE'S PLANNED EMERGENCY PROTECTION ORDER BRINGS SPOTLIGHT ONTO HUMAN RIGHTS OF FATHER AND UNBORN CHILD

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A convicted sex-offender who was told his baby would be taken into care the moment it is born next week today faile...
A convicted sex-offender who was told his baby would be taken into care the moment it is born next week today failed in an eleventh-hour bid to block the local authority's move.

The father-to-be, who is in his 30s, claimed Gloucestershire CC's decision to apply for an order to take the unborn baby away as soon as it is born would amount to a violation of human rights.

However, Mr Justice Munby, sitting at London's High court, dismissed his judicial review challenge - saying the case should be heard instead in the specialist Family Proceedings Court.

He said he would give detailed reasons for his decision on 15 April.

The father earlier urged the judge to issue an injunction against the council - thwarting its plans to take the baby away. He said: 'We believe it not only to be in our interests, but in the public interest.

'This is not just a case for Gloucestershire, this is a national issue. Thousands of couples are having their children removed every year.'

The council plans to apply for an Emergency Protection Order the moment the baby is born so that the child can be taken straight into foster care for a period while psychological tests are carried out on the couple.

The council plans to return the child to the parents for a period of residential assessment in May to assess the couple's suitability for parenthood.

Issues over the couple's suitability arose for 'a myriad of reasons', among which were the mother's learning difficulties and the father's criminal record, said the council's barrister, Claire Rowsell.

But the father, who was convicted in 1995 of having sex with an under-age girl, said the council's decision to have the child fostered at birth amounted to a breach not only of his and his partner's fundamental human rights, but also his unborn child's.

He pointed to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which enshrines the right to respect for family and h ome life.

He added: 'We feel the child will have already formed such a strong natural bond with the mother. If it is taken away from her for a period of time so soon after birth that bond could be broken.'

Speaking outside court, Miss Rowsell said the council had now agreed that the residential assessment would be carried out at the end of May - running parallel to the psychological tests on the couple.

The council will apply to have the baby placed in foster care until that time, with the mother allowed at least five access visits per week.

Dismissing the couple's challenge, Mr Justice Munby said Judicial Review proceedings were not the appropriate forum to air cases of this kind.

He explained: 'The appropriate way for these cases to be dealt with is via proceedings in the Family Proceedings Court.

'The grounds on which this court can intervene in a case such as this are very narrow and limited. Therefore, failure in this court does not mean that it will fail in the Family Proceedings Court.'

He urged the couple to work closely with the council to show them they could 'make a go' of looking after the child.

He added: 'It's going to take some give and take on both sides. Co-operate with the system and make the best you can of the opportunities.'

However, speaking outside court, the father said he was now considering taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

He added: 'We accept the local authority's care plan, but the issue of human rights has not been addressed. Changes to the system and to the procedure would be welcomed by ourselves.'

STRAND NEWS SERVICE

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