On the 24th July 2014, Simon Hughes MP, the Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties, delivered a speech outlining a new “policy of involvement” for all family proceedings. This policy aims to uphold the rights of children enshrined in the Children Act 1989 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and gives all children involved in proceedings a right of access to the trial judge in order to express their wishes and feelings.
Although this gives minors a voice, it also raises a number of important issues in practice.
Firstly, the policy will be applied routinely to all children aged 10 or over. This excludes a large majority of minors who are affected by such cases but have not yet reached the minimum age. Furthermore, the maturity, understanding and ability of the child to formulate views should be taken into account, and each child should be individually assessed to decide whether, regardless of age, they are able to express their wishes. Some children may find it difficult to understand the situation and express their feelings, especially to strangers, and those over 10 should not be forced to do so, while those who have not yet reached 10 should have the opportunity should they wish.
Secondly, it is not hard to conceive that the judge may be influenced by his or her own experiences and so interpret the child’s feelings and wishes in a way which was not intended.
Finally, it is likely that the view of the child may be influenced by the parents, intentionally or not. While some children may be willing to tell the judge what their parents have asked them to, others may base what say on how they believe their parents will react.
If you have a child who may be affected by this new policy and require further information, read the Family Law Week article published on this topic, and for the full text of the speech delivered on the 24th July 2014. Should you need advice about a children issue and how your child may be affected by this please contact one of our solicitors who will be more than happy to help.