In these ‘new normal’ times and as the vaccinations against Covid-19 continue to be administered, more than 23 million now having had their first dose, there is much debate on vaccinations. Many are considering, do they agree with vaccinations, can they be forced to have them, if they do not will it impact on their employment or ability to travel.
The vaccination of children has been a contested issue within family law matters well before these Covid-19 times. This includes in instances where separated parents do not agree on the medical and health needs of their children, or where a child is accommodated by the Local Authority and the parents do not agree with their decisions.
In the case of vaccinations there is very little room for compromise, either a child is vaccinated or they are not. This is where the Court can become involved to assist in making these decisions. When making such decisions the Court focuses on, what is in the best interests of the child. Below we consider the current case law in this area.
What is the position where there is a dispute with the Local Authority?
Such disputes include circumstances where the Local Authority has started, and the parents are in the middle of, proceedings where they are seeking to accommodate the child. This could also include circumstances where such proceedings have concluded and the child is accommodated by the Local Authority, i.e. in foster care.
In these circumstances the Local Authority may have sought Orders where they share parental responsibility with the parents, this is called a Care Order or, whilst proceedings are still ongoing, an interim Care Order. The question then arises, if parents are sharing parental responsibility for their child with a professional body who makes medical decisions for them, and what happens when there is disagreement.
In the recent case of Re H (A Child)(Parental Responsibility: Vaccination)  EWCA Civ 664 the Court dealt with exactly this issue. This was a case where the Local Authority wanted to vaccinate a child in its care against the parents’ wishes. In this case proceedings had concluded with the Court making final Care and Placement Orders, which allowed for the Local Authority to place the child for adoption. The parents objected.
The Judge determined that the Local Authority could use its statutory powers (this means the powers afforded to them in law by the Orders that had been made) to make decisions about vaccination of the child. It was confirmed that this also applies in circumstances where any proceedings for the child are still ongoing.
Essentially this means that in circumstances where the Local Authority shares parental responsibility for the child (whether proceedings have concluded or not), it has the power to override the views of the parents in respect of vaccines. This means that if the parent does not agree, they would have to make an application to stop the Local Authority and give very good reasons why the child should not be vaccinated.
What is the position where there is a dispute between parents?
There have long been disputes between separated parents in relation to their child’s health and medical care. With both parents sharing parental responsibility for their child equally it is for the parents to make such decisions for their child, however this can be incredibly difficult when the parents do not agree on medical issues.
In a recent case of M v H (private law vaccination)  EWFC 93, during the course of contested child contact proceedings the father had made an application for an Order that the children (aged 6 and 4) were to have all normal childhood vaccines. The father later sought to amend this application to include vaccinations relevant to travel and Covid-19. The mother did not agree with the children being vaccinated.
The Judge ultimately made an Order that the children should be vaccinated with each of the vaccines specified on the NHS vaccination schedule. In doing so the Judge quoted from the Judgment of the recent case of Re H explained above stating it was;
‘very difficult now to foresee a case in which a vaccination approved for use in children, including vaccinations against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, would not be endorsed by the court as being in a child’s best interests, absent a credible development in medical science or peer-reviewed research evidence indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of the vaccine or a well evidenced medical contraindication specific to the subject child’.
Given this recent case law, when there is a dispute between parents as to whether their child should be vaccinated or not, it is now very clear that the Court are likely to order that they should be vaccinated where the vaccine has been approved for use in children.
How can Jefferies help with vaccination matters?
If you think you need assistance with any of the issues mentioned above or any family matter, the Family Law department at Jefferies are here to help you. As a department we can assist and advise on all areas of family law including disputes between parents and those which involve the Local Authority. We also have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency and can advise you on whether you meet the criteria and are eligible for funding.
How can I contact Jefferies?
If you need advice or assistance with any family law matter, please contact our family law department by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call our direct line, 01702 443480 and one of our solicitors will be in touch.
Can an employer demand their employees are vaccinated against Covid-19? Read our answers here.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.