Children will be given a louder voice in the family courts as Justice Minister Simon Hughes announces plans for change. The Liberal Democrat MP, addressing the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB), outlined ways in which children and young people could be given a greater say in what happens to them in the event of any kind of family court case including divorce, parental separation or public care proceedings.
Some of the proposed initiatives put forward to ease communication between the child and the courts include meetings, letters and pictures and the option of having third party in addition to their Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer or social worker. Children could also communicate with the judge by way of letters or pictures. Furthermore, CAFCASS are working on some more technological resources such as a ‘Court Gaming App’ to help explain and demystify the court system to a young user. There are also plans for more traditional welcome packs and paper-based guides.
Simon Hughes said:
For too long, children and young people have struggled to have their voices heard during the family court process. Although they are often at the centre of proceedings, the views of children and how they feel are often not heard, with other people making vital decisions for them.
He also expressed support for dispute resolution services to make efforts to consider children’s views more carefully.
The FJYPB is a group of 24 young people who promote the voices of children in the family justice system. It’s a sub-group of the National Family Justice Board. Hughes declared himself to be “really impressed” with them and their arguments they have advanced on behalf of young people. He confirmed that the changes will apply to children from the age of ten onwards. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were 90,000 children involved in new family court cases last year.
This is not the first step towards giving young people greater autonomy in the family courts. Last summer, President of the Family Division Sir James Munby offered his support for the idea in his ‘View from the President’s Chambers’. In reference to his involvement in the FJYPB’s second annual conference in July 2014 he said: “Giving the closing address, I stressed the importance of children and young people being given the opportunity to communicate with professionals, including judges and magistrates. I expressed my support for the government initiative.”
Just over a year ago the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case of LC (Children) UKSC 1 that a child should have the ability effectively to determine his or her habitual residence.