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Views of children sought over family court reforms

1 September 2006

Children are being asked their opinions on new proposals to provide them with separate legal representation in certain family proceedings.

An on-line forum, launched today by the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) is aimed specifically at children to give their views on whether they should have their own solicitor when their parents separate, if a judge should talk to hem directly and what information children should have when they become adults concerning decisions family courts made about them when they were children. The DCA also released a consultation paper entitled 'Separate Representation of Children' for general comment.

DCA minister Harriet Harman QC said: “The online forum will enable children to tell the DCA what they think of these proposals, and whether they think they would help them. A child's life can be irrevocably affected by a decision of thefamily courts and I want their opinions to be fully considered as we develop plans to improve the family courts. The internet allows youngpeople to tell us what they think safely, anonymously."

The forum alows children to register their views without giving any personal details, bar some demographic information. It also asks for children's views on privacy and media coverage of family courts, as discussed in a separate consultation released in July.

Currently, children involved in public law proceedings are entitled to representation by a guardian from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) or a solicitor, but this does not extend automatically to all private law proceedings. Today's consultation suggests that a child be afforded party status and legal representation in cases falling under s 8 of the Children Act 1989 – concerning a child's residence and contact orders - where the judge considers there is a 'legal need' for it. The paper notes that research has shown “that party status and separate representation is not in the best interests of the child in all section 8 cases and can cause undue stress to the child”.

The on-line forum can be fond at www.ofcf.net and will run until 9 October 2006, whilst the consultation paper on Separate representation for children is available on the DCA's website and runs until 8 December 2006.

The latest initiatives are part of an ongoing campaign by the DCA to improve transparency and protect children in the family courts system.

Categorised in:

Procedures Legal Aid Children Marriage & Civil partnership Courts & Judiciary