Victory in our single dad surrogacy case – President of the High Court Family Division makes declaration of incompatibility

May 20, 2016
We are thrilled to report victory in our long-running case which has sought to challenge the discrimination against single parents in UK surrogacy law. Sir James Munby, the President of the High Court Family Division, has today made a formal declaration that UK law discriminates against single parents with children born through surrogacy and is incompatible with their human rights.

Through our work at NGA and Brilliant Beginnings, we have long felt the impact of surrogacy law’s exclusion of single parents, even though single parents can and do conceive children through surrogacy (just as they build families through adoption and other forms of assisted reproduction). The UK has a proud tradition of taking a progressive approach to assisted reproduction and non-traditional families, and the current surrogacy laws are a glaring anomaly which fail to uphold our most fundamental values of safeguarding children’s welfare.

Today’s ruling is a recognition that the law needs to change so that Z, and dozens of other children born through surrogacy to single parents, can be rescued from legal limbo.

What is the background to the case?

The case concerns a British biological father of a 21 month old boy known as ‘Z’, who was born through a US surrogacy arrangement and lives with his single father in the UK. Last September the High Court ruled that it could not grant our client a UK parental order (the order needed to extinguish the responsibilities of the surrogate and to issue a UK birth certificate for Z), because UK surrogacy law only allows couples, and not single parents, to apply. The court ruled that the US surrogate who carried Z (who lives in the USA, is not his biological mother and has no legal status there) has sole decision-making rights in the UK. Z was made a ward of court, which means the court safeguards his welfare and makes decisions about his care.

The President of the Family Division has now declared that the law is incompatible with the father’s and the child’s human rights, and discriminates against them.

In an unprecedented move, the Secretary of State for Health (which had initially fought our application) decided not to oppose the ruling, conceding that UK law breached human rights legislation and consenting to the court making a declaration of incompatibility. Although only Parliament can change the law, declarations of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act are unusual and carry significant weight: only 20 final declarations have ever been made, and all but one have prompted the law being changed.  We are optimistic that law reform will follow.

The team at NGA (working with leading counsel Elizabeth Isaacs QC and Adem Muzaffer) has been fighting this important case and are enormously grateful for the generous support of leading professionals and researchers from the USA, Canada, Australia and Cambridge University who gave expert evidence in support of our case.

Responses from our client and our QC

Responding to the judgment, Z’s father said: “I am delighted by today’s ruling which finally confirms that the law is discriminatory against both my family and others in the same situation. I persevered with the legal action because I strongly felt that my son should be in the same legal position as others born through surrogacy. I have a son who I love dearly and as part of this process there was a rigorous court assessment that confirms that I am a good parent. I am now eagerly waiting to hear what the Government will do so my son does not need to indefinitely remain a ward of court.”

Elizabeth Isaacs QC, his barrister, said: “Declarations of incompatibility are rarely made, so this is a very significant decision. Having consented to the declaration, there is no reason why the government should not take swift action to change the law. We hope that the law will be changed to enable a parental order to be granted for Z as soon as possible.”

Media coverage of today’s ruling

The Times – Single father wins legal right to bring up surrogate child

BBC News – Surrogacy law for single parents to change after court ruling 

Daily Mail – Anger at selfish move to let single parents raise surrogate children after Jeremy Hunt abandoned High Court challenge (no link given the content)

Talk Radio – Leading fertility lawyer dismisses claims new surrogacy laws would not promote strong families 

The UK’s leading surrogacy lawyers

Find out more about how we support families through surrogacy

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