Campaigners have welcomed the outcome of a landmark High Court case on the rights of unmarried fathers.

Today the court ruled that the rights of an unmarried father were breached after his former partner removed his children from Ireland without his consent.

The ruling has significant implications for unmarried parents in the future and has already sparked a call for a constitutional referendum.

The High Court has ruled that the removal of twin boys from Ireland to England was wrongful and in breach of the rights of their father.

A man known as Mr G, who was the unmarried father of two-year-old twin boys, took the action after his former partner took them to England without prior warning or consent.

In a lengthy judgment, Mr Justice Liam McKechnie ruled that the action by the mother breached the rights of the father even though the couple were not married.

Under the Constitution, unmarried fathers have no immediate right to the custody of their children.

However Judge McKechnie concluded that the boys had been resident in Ireland and the couple had lived their lives in a fashion similar to a married couple.

The court heard that the father dropped and collected his children from school and was the only contact that a local crèche had when dealing with the boys.

A District Court case in which judgment was reserved last March involved Mr G applying for custody and guardianship, Judge McKechnie said today that as of 9 March there were rights of custody as a result of the District Court application.

In line with this he said the mother's refusal to return the children was unlawful.

Mr G was represented by Michael McDowell SC who said that the issue of costs was yet to be decided. Mr G has also taken action in the English courts, a stay on proceedings had been issued to await the outcome of the High Court case in Ireland.

Some legal experts say that while the judgment does provide a framework for new legislation to safeguard the rights of unmarried parents, this particular case may not set a precedent.