The days are gone when fathers held exclusive power over their children's up-bringing and education, the Court of Appeal has ruled in rejecting an ultra-orthodox Jewish father's objections to his independent-minded ex-wife' choice of schools for their children.
Emphasising the importance of every child enjoying equal opportunities, the court decided that the father's religious beliefs could not prevail over the right of his children to be educated to the point where they can decide for themselves what sort of lives they wish to lead on attaining adulthood.
The parents are part of the Chareidi Jewish community and, during their 10-year marriage, observed a strictly orthodox way of life. However, after studying for an Open University Degree and forging a professional career, the mother has gone her own way and is determined that her children, the youngest aged three, should be educated at orthodox – but not ultra-orthodox – Jewish schools.
Giving reasons for rejecting the father's appeal against a family judge’s decision to approve the mother’s choice of schools, Lord Justice Munby, sitting with Lord Justice Maurice Kay and Sir Stephen Sedley, said that, stripped to its bare essentials, the dispute came down to whether the mother's views on education should prevail over the father's arguments based on his creed and way of life.
He said that the historic view that fathers have a ‘sacred right’ over their children's education and up-bringing did not reflect the modern world and the courts could no longer abstain from involvement in such disputes.
He acknowledged that the issue of education is of ‘transcendental importance’ to the Chareidi community but said that it was a fundamental value of modern English society that every child - whatever their social grouping or creed - should have equality of opportunity.
‘Far too many lives in our community are blighted, even today, by lack of aspiration’, said the judge, who added that it was society's objective to ensure that every child grows into adulthood equipped to decide on their own future paths.
Acting as a ‘judicial parent’, the court had to be ‘cautious about approving a regime which may have the effect of foreclosing or unduly limiting the child's ability to make such decisions in future’, he added.
The judge emphasised that the court was not seeking to ‘intrude uninvited’ into issues concerning the Chareidi community or the family's private lives. ‘The court - the state - is involved in the present case only because the parents have been unable to resolve their family difficulties themselves’, he concluded.