Parens Patriae is Latin meaning parent of the nation. It is the power of the state under public policy to make an intervention against a parent, legal guardian or informal caretaker who is abusive or negligent. It also means the state comes in to act as the parent or guardian of a child who needs to be protected. When invoked, the state can declare itself to be suing on behalf of its people.
This doctrine was initiated by the King’s Bench in the sixteenth century. It was gradually developed and applied to children through the seventeenth century and eighteenth century. During this time Parens Patriae has developed from a doctrine which grants absolute rights of intervention to the state to one which is mainly associated with the rights and duties of the state and the courts towards children and adults who are incapacitated.
Parens Patriae makes it a requirement for the courts to give the rights of children priority and first consideration in any action brought before them. For example in a divorce case the rights of the children of the divorce seeking couple must always be prioritized. This means that any decision that the court makes in regard to the divorce must always be in the best interest of the children. Any decision or agreement that is reached by the parents as a means of settling the dispute by does not favor the interest of the children cannot be allowed by a court of law. The settlement in this case will be nullified even if it is the best way to settle the dispute between the parents.
In the same spirit of Parens Patriae, the juvenile courts have been developed and modified to facilitated fair treatment of young offenders in a bid to help reform them more cautiously. The doctrine is therefore majorly to protect the interest of children especially those who need protection.
Grisso, T., & Schwartz, R. (2010). Youth on Trial: A Development Perspective on Juvenile Justice. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Mcshane, M., & Williams, F. (2009). Encyclopedia of Juvenile Justice. New York: SAGE Publications.