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Children granted access to judges in family courts

Young people's voices will be heard in the family justice system under new government proposals

28 July 2014

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The government has announced that children from the age of ten will have access to judges in order to make their views and feelings known regarding family court hearings.

The age of ten has been used to be consistent with other existing policy and practice in England and Wales. It is already the age of criminal responsibility for young people.

Speaking at the Family Justice Young People's Board, justice minister Simon Hughes, said: "Children and young people must by law have their views heard before decisions are made about their future, and where decisions are made that will impact them. At the moment, it is still too often that their views are not heard.

"Our commitment to giving children the chance to speak to a judge and make clear their views means children will not only be seen in family courts but they will have their own voice heard. This will put them firmly at the heart of the family justice system," concluded Hughes.

Commenting on the government's proposals, National Family Mediation (NFM) chief executive, Jane Robey, said: "Over 30 years on, we're delighted the government now pledges to take a number of steps to ensure the child can shape his or her own future at times of family breakdown.

"Our experience shows that hearing the child's voice can shift parents' attention away from bitterness they feel about each other towards placing the interests of the child as 'page one, line one' of all future plans."

Robey continued: "The impact of the child's voice in the mediation and court room setting can literally be life-changing."

Claire Wood, an associate solicitor at Kingsley Napley LLP commented: "Today's children in many ways are more grown-up than ever before. Perhaps this is a result of greater choices which requires decision-making at a young age. This government announcement exemplifies a growing move towards recognising children's voices, giving them a right to be heard in matters affecting their wellbeing.

She continued: "This move is welcomed and also reflects the reality of many parents who want their children's views on separation and divorce considered. Empowering our youngsters is compelling, but the extent to which their views are determinative will remain the preserve of a considerably older, more experienced and, probably wiser, judiciary."

Resolution's chair, Jo Edwards, welcomed the government's proposals but commented: "Sadly, with fewer parents able to access legal support as a result of the cuts to legal aid, and publicly-funded mediation numbers on the decline, there is a risk that the increased pressure on the family courts could undermine this commitment."

The changes, which will affect public and private law cases, will be implemented as soon as is practically possible.

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Children Courts & Judiciary