Two fathers given suspended jail terms for not paying child support yesterday won legal fights after complaining that their human rights were breached.
Both said procedures adopted by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission – formerly the Child Support Agency – did not comply with their rights to a fair trial. The Court of Appeal ruled in their favour, with judges saying the procedures were flawed and calling on the commission to make changes urgently.
They said the burden of proof was "upside down" because defendants had to "show cause" why they should not be jailed.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "It is extremely disappointing that parents who have flouted their legal responsibility to financially support their children have invoked the Human Rights Act to seek to continue to do so. Regrettably, we need every enforcement measure at our disposal to ensure the minority of irresponsible parents pay for their children.
"It is important to stress that this judgement does not question the legality of bringing parents who repeatedly refuse to pay for their children to the attention of magistrates, who can then decide whether to send them to prison. We will of course consider any other implications of this judgement carefully and take the appropriate action."