Johnston and Others v. Ireland  | 1986

Reforms made after a child was unable to be legally recognised as her father’s daughter

The absence of an appropriate legal regime reflecting [Nessa's] natural family ties amounts to a failure to respect her family life.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, December 1986


Nessa Williams-Johnston lived with her mother and father. Her parents had been unable to marry, as her father had been married previously and there was no right to divorce at the time.

This meant there was no way for Nessa to be legally recognised as her father’s daughter.

Nessa had the legal status of an illegitimate child, and her parents worried that this gave her no right to parental support or inheritance.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court found that there were no laws in place to recognise Nessa’s family ties with her two parents. This breached her right to private and family life, and the rights of her two parents.


Ireland brought in the Status of Children Act 1987. This put children born outside of marriage in a similar legal position to children whose parents were married. It protected children’s rights to guardianship, maintenance and property rights.


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