New powers to stop people who have killed their partners from gaining parental rights to surviving children will be introduced before the end of the year, the UK justice secretary will say.
Alex Chalk will introduce “Jade’s law” this year to protect families from the manipulation of jailed abusers.
The measures, named after Jade Ward, who was stabbed and strangled by her partner, Russell Marsh, in 2021 as their four sons were sleeping, will introduce an automatic suspension of parental responsibility while any mother or father is serving time for killing the person with whom they shared that responsibility.
At present, parental responsibility remains in place when one parent kills the other, and the family or guardians of the children must consult that parent on decisions including health, education and travel.
The announcement comes 10 months after the Labour party said it would back the same law.
Marsh killed Ward, 27, at their Flintshire home in 2021. Despite being sent to prison, Marsh has still attempted to control his children from behind bars.
Marsh retains rights to request progress reports and medical details of his children and could even block them getting therapy and travelling abroad, despite being found guilty of murdering their mother.
Ward’s parents have cared for her children since and have campaigned to end Marsh’s parental rights. He has contacted the family, asking for photographs, school reports and medical details.
Jade’s father, Paul Ward, told the BBC in July that the situation was “absolutely shocking”, adding: “It’s him behind prison cells dragging things up, it’s just very hard. The boys don’t want contact with him. They don’t want contact with him at all.”
He added that if he wanted to get passports for his grandsons, it would need to go through the courts.
The measures will be introduced to parliament as part of the victims and prisoners bill. Three months ago, the government turned down an amendment to a bill that would have changed the law, saying they were looking for a quicker way to introduce new powers.
In a speech on Tuesday afternoon, Chalk will tell the Conservative party conference: “Jade Ward’s case and the moving campaign of her family has exposed an injustice in our family justice system, one that we are committed to fixing.
“Murderers who kill their partners should not be able to manipulate and control their children from behind bars, which is why we are fixing the law to protect families from this appalling behaviour.”
It represents the end of a long campaign initiated by the parents of Ward and the Labour MP Mark Tami.
A friend of the family, Edward Duggan, launched a petition for the law change and secured more than 130,000 signatures, triggering a Commons debate in November 2022.
In a further development, a lifetime ban on sex offenders changing their name and gender is expected to be announced by Suella Braverman on Tuesday, in what insiders say will be an attempt to close a loophole that allows criminals to evade the sex offender register.
Details from other government agencies including HMRC, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) HM Passport Office and the DVLA will be merged with the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), sources confirmed.
Any change in a known sex offender’s details on any of those government agencies will alert the DBS and they will face prosecution, government sources have confirmed.
The home secretary will use her speech at the Conservative party conference in Manchester to announce legislation to introduce a ban on anyone convicted of a sex-related crime changing their identity, making it a new offence.
Currently, all registered sex offenders are required to notify their local police force within three days of changing their name. Failure to do so is a criminal offence but the onus is placed on the offender to comply with the law.
Between January 2019 and June 2022, there were thousands of prosecutions against people on the sex offender register who failed to alert authorities about a change in their personal information.
In the most serious cases, men barred for life from working with children used their new name to gain employment in schools and homes where they committed further offences.
However, there are several potential loopholes that could be exploited under the ban, which the Home Office is attempting to address before introducing the legislation.
In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org