Children and their right to be heard

Growing calls are mounting for a considered review of the court’s approach to children in family law cases and in particular, the rights of children to provide their thoughts, wishes and feelings directly to the judge presiding over a case affecting them.

Of course, many children find themselves torn between two parents in bitter dispute and the courts and CAFCASS have been at pains to try and minimise any adverse impact that disputes and litigation may have on a child.

Last year, CAFCASS handles cases affecting over 100,000 children. their work inevitably has a huge bearing on the outcome of cases, directly impacting on children and the future relationship with a parent. Traditionally, when instructed by the court to become involved in a case, CAFCASS would likely meet with a child (ideally in a forum without parental interaction) and discuss matters sensitively and in keeping with the child’s ability to understand and process the deterioration of their parents’ relationship and the ongoing dispute.

Ordinarily, a judge would not meet or engage with a child, unless the circumstances were exceptional. This approach has been adopted in order to afford a level of protection to a child from “adult matters”. Inevitably, some children feel that their voice is lost or diluted in proceedings and feel they would benefit from a direct channel of communication to a judge.

The process would be fraught with difficulty, not least because it clearly would not be suitable for every child in every case. The Family Justice Young People’s Board are calling for a change in approach in cases, upholding their view of Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ensuring that their voice is heard and that they are given the right to talk to judges privately if they want.

Commenting on the calls for change, Lord Justice Jackson said, “You want to make sure that the child leaves the (court) room feeling better than they went in, that the child or young person feels better for knowing who is making decisions about their future. And so therefore you have to think carefully about what the conversation should touch upon – sometimes what it should not touch upon – and prepare yourself properly for a meeting of that kind.”

If you would like to discuss issues relating to your children following the breakdown of your relationship, contact one of our expert solicitors today on 01234 88977 or 0207 177 9777 for a free consultation. Serving Bedford and London, our lawyers can help you with your family law  matters.


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