Debate as to whether children deserve greater input in family court cases

A campaign to give children a greater say in family law proceedings is gathering momentum.

Those in favour of reform argue there should be an option for children to speak, in private, to the Judge who is dealing with the case.

Under present arrangements, youngsters do not provide evidence to the court nor meet the Judge as a matter of course.

Instead, the guardian service Cafcass speak to the children about their feelings and then makes a report to the court.

This process was designed to provide protection to under 18s caught up in family disputes.

But there is growing evidence that many are unhappy with this arrangement and feel they are being denied a proper opportunity to make their feelings known. Critics suggest that this will tend to mean that children are more likely to object to the decision which is ultimately made.

The suggestion that the system should be overhauled has the backing of a number of senior members of the judiciary. Indeed, for some time a working group has been examining the options available.

Those in favour of reform were buoyed by an announcement in 2014, by then Justice Minister Simon Hughes, that the policy would be reviewed. Although a Freedom of Information (FoI) request earlier in the year revealed that the plans had since been shelved.

Lord Justice Jackson has said that any system for arranging a meeting with a Judge would need very careful planning.

“You want to make sure that the child leaves the room feeling better than they went in,” he told Radio 4, “that the child or young person feels better for knowing who is making decisions about their future.”

Peter Martin, from OGR Stock Denton’s Family team,  said: “There is a very difficult balance between giving the children a voice and making them feel that they are responsible for the final decision.  I fear that if it becomes more “normal” for children to be heard by the Judge that more parents will involve the children in the dispute between them, rather than protecting them from this.  Our current system actually works.”

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