Justice Minister Simon Hughes recently spoke at the Family Justice Young People’s Board ‘Voice of the Child’ conference, recognising the group’s calls to allow children and young people to have more of a say on what happens to them within the family justice system.
The young people’s representative group have drawn attention to the fact that children are too often ‘pushed and pulled’ through the family justice system, and given very few choices regarding their future. The government is now committed to ensuring that children over the age of ten will be involved in family court hearings in England in Wales, with the opportunity to make their views known to judges.
At the second annual FJYPB – ‘Voice of the Child’ conference, Simon Hughes gave a speech acknowledging the needs of children and young people within family law proceedings:
“It seems to me wrong that a ten-year-old in England and Wales is deemed old enough to be criminally responsible yet has no automatic voice in family proceedings in which decisions are made about them. Children and young people should be involved and be seen to be involved. And if a child younger than ten years is able to express themselves and wishes to do so then they too should have that opportunity.”
The Justice Minister recognised that “the rights of children and young people are not upheld without discrimination” and may suffer prejudice in many Commonwealth countries relating to gender, faith, sexuality or a failure to comply with cultural expectations. Additionally, the views of children are re-interpreted or overtaken by presumptive decisions made by caretakers and legal professionals, and while these decisions are generally made with the child’s best interest in mind, they overrule a child’s legal right to have their own “distinct voice” heard with regard to their future.
Simon Hughes continued: “Children and young people should be given the opportunity to meet and communicate with the professionals involved with their case, including workers from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), social workers, the judges, and legal representatives.
“Children and young people should be kept informed about the court proceedings in an age-appropriate manner, kept informed of the stage their case has reached, and contacted prior to the first hearing, and have the opportunity of giving feedback through email, text, telephone or written form.
“We will also work with the mediation sector to arrive at a position where children and young people of 10 years old and over have appropriate access to mediators too in cases which affect them.”
The minister concluded by reiterating the belief that young people and children should be “at the heart of the family justice system” and asserted that he aims to implement these changes in association with the President of the Family Division, other family court judges, Cafcass, local councils, and young people themselves. To read Simon Hughes’ full speech, click here.collaborative family law Maidenhead, family law, family law beaconsfield, family law Thames Valley, mediation, mediation solicitor Berkshire, mediation solicitor Buckinghamshire