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Children should not be denied a legal identity because of some breach of the relevant provisions in the Children and Family Relationships Bill relating to surrogacy arrangements by their parents or prospective parents, according to a pre-legislative scrutiny report by the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality on the General Scheme of the Children and Family Relationships Bill

No sanction should be imposed for breach of provisions in the Children and Family Relationships Bill 2014 on the parents that would be against the interests of the child, the report recommends.

The Children and Family Relationships Bill is intended to create a legal structure to underpin diverse parenting situations and provide legal clarity on parental rights and duties in diverse family forms. The Joint Committee invited written submissions from interested groups or individuals in relation to the Heads of the Bill. It received 38 submissions and held public hearings on 9th April 2014.

Committee Chairman David Stanton TD said: “This Report summarises issues relating to the General Scheme which have been brought to the attention of the Joint Committee. In particular, the Report attempts to summarise and set in context some of the points made in stakeholder submissions and subsequent presentations to the Joint Committee at public hearings.”

Among its other recommendations are:

· Definition: The definition of surrogacy in the Bill should be expanded to include ‘traditional surrogacy’

· Posthumous Conception: The Bill should include a provision allowing and regulating limited posthumous conception

· Assignment of Parentage in Surrogacy cases: These provisions, particularly the current time limits, require reviewing to ensure that there is no doubt regarding the child’s parentage after delivery.

· Child’s right to Identity: It should be considered whether the Bill could be amended to include some provision, for example in Head 10, concerning the right of a child to access information concerning their genetic identity.

· Guardians acting jointly on medical consent: Head 36 requires reviewing to ensure greater clarity, and to ensure further that there is no conflict with existing law concerning the age at which persons may consent to medical treatment.

· Changes to Guardianship: The requirement that unmarried cohabitant fathers must show that they have been cohabiting with the child’s mother for at least 12 months prior to the child’s birth should be reviewed, as some commentators expressed the view that it was too long a period.

A central register should be established in which statutory declarations of guardianship could be retained.

The language of ‘guardianship’, ‘custody’ and ‘access’ should be replaced with more appropriate and contemporary terms such as ‘parental responsibility’, ‘day-to-day care’ and ‘contact.’

· Parentage: Greater clarity is needed in the terms of Heads 8 and 10 in this respect.

Adoption by civil partners and parentage recognised abroad: The Bill should ensure adequate recognition of foreign adoption orders and marriage/civil partnerships celebrated abroad.

Views of the Child: Greater clarity is needed on how the provisions of Head 32 concerning the right of the child to be heard should be implemented in practice without imposing undue burden on the child.

· Procedures: The rules on section 47 reports outlined in Head 58 of the Bill should be strengthened, with provision for the funding of the Guardian Ad Litem, and recognition of child contact centres.

Deputy Stanton said: “The General Scheme of the Bill includes proposals on a wide-range of issues affecting family life, including: parentage; assisted human reproduction and surrogacy; guardianship, access and custody rights; mediation; DNA testing; maintenance; and reform of court practices among others.

“The wide-ranging nature of the proposals in the Bill reflects the social change experienced by a significant proportion of families and households in Ireland over recent decades, as well as the scientific developments which have taken place in assisted human reproduction.

“It should be borne in mind that the Heads of the Bill have no legal effect and what is published is only the General Scheme of Heads of a Bill which will require further work before they will be published.

“On behalf of myself and the members of the Committee, I wish to thank all those who participated in this process either by way of written submission and oral presentation to the Committee.”

Read the Report here: