The government has announced that children from the age of 10 who are involved in family law cases will be given a greater say in what happens to them. These children will have greater access to judges to make their feelings known.
This means that children will be seen and heard in the family courts and it means that they will be at the heart of any family law case.
The Family Justice Young People’s Board says that for too long children have been ‘pushed and pulled’ through the family justice system with little or no say in what happens to them.
The government has said they will also work with family mediators so that children have appropriate access to mediators in cases that affect them.
The age of 10 has been chosen so that it’s consistent with existing policy and practice in England and Wales. It is the age of criminal responsibility.
The Ministry of Justice will be working with the Family Court judges, with the Children and Family Courts Advisory Support Service and with children to implement this change.
Some family lawyers are concerned that these changes could give the child too much power. A child could be at risk of being coached by one parent or bribed by one parent into putting in a good word with the judge. This is a very difficult position to put a child in.
Other concerns that have been raised are that judges are not as well trained as CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service) officers - who are already responsible for listening to children’s views in family cases - in talking to children and these meetings will take up a lot of judicial time in an already overstretched area of the court system.
The government has said that the changes that effect public and private law cases will be implemented as soon as is possible.
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Published on: August 7, 2014