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Wardship and inherent jurisdiction: children law issues in England and Wales

What is wardship and what grounds apply for a child to be made a ward of court?

What is wardship?

When a child is made a ward of court, wardship is the name given to the type of court proceedings. When this happens, the court becomes the legal guardian of the child and the child a ‘ward of court’.

The court will have parental responsibility for that child for the period that child is a ward of court. This means "all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property".

Who can be made a ward of court?

A child aged under the age of 18 can be made a ward of court. Wardship only applies to children who are British citizens physically present in England and Wales or who have habitual residence in England or Wales. Any applications to the family courts can only be made once a child is born.

When will a child be made a ward of court?

Wardship is often granted in serious, complex or unusual cases. The court can exercise its inherent jurisdiction to make any order or determine any issue in respect of a child.

International cases

Wardship is often instigated where there are disputes concerning children with an international element.

Risk of danger

Sometimes wardship is started because a child has been removed from their parent or the child is vulnerable, subject to a safeguarding risk, or in danger. The court will ensure that the child is protected and looked after.

Child abduction

An order for wardship can be useful in cases where a child has been wrongfully removed from the jurisdiction to certain countries. These cases are more commonly known as child abduction. An order from the High Court of this nature can carry great weight in the country to which the child has been removed and can assist in returning a child.

Medical treatment

Wardship is also used in cases in disputed medical treatment cases, often involving life and death decisions, and in any circumstance where a child needs protection but the Children Act 1989 does not apply.

Miscellaneous cases

Wardship is very wide and can be used in many circumstances. It has been used in cases involving gender transition of children abroad and forced marriage cases.

Who can issue wardship proceedings?

Wardship proceedings can be started by anyone connected to a child, without seeking leave of the court. You do not have to be the parents of the child to issue these types of proceedings. Family members, the local authority, or the child itself can instigate these proceedings.

How do I know whether a child needs to be made a ward of court?

If you know a child who you feel is at risk for whatever reason, you should seek specialist legal advice immediately from a family law specialist. You may also want to consider contacting the local authority or the police if your situation is urgent.

If you would like further guidance on warship in England and Wales, please speak to one of our child law solicitors.

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