Plans have been announced by the government to give children more of a role in determining the outcome of disputes heard by the Family Court – a change that will mean children as young as 10 years old will have the opportunity to express their views to the presiding judge.
Each year in England and Wales there are approximately 270,000 new cases dealt with by the Family Courts, handling issues such as adoption, divorce and domestic violence, with the welfare and future residence of children often a major concern.
However, the Family Courts system – first created in 2013 and reformed earlier this year – has been the subject of much criticism over its perceived ‘secrecy’, convening in closed sessions, and the inability for children to share their views when decisions that affect their futures are being made.
Although the current law allows for children to have their views taken into account in proceedings, often the justice system does not enable this to happen easily, meaning their opinions are not always given full consideration.
The Family Justice Young People’s Board, which comprises 40 young people and children who have experience of the family justice system or whom have a significant interest in it, has led a campaign to give children a greater say in the decision-making process that affects them, arguing that it is unfair to expect children to not be able to contribute their views.
The Ministry of Justice has now confirmed that plans will be introduced as soon as possible to implement changes, a decision which has been welcomed by the Family Justice Young People’s Board.
Another significant change that the government is proposing to introduce is the appointment of a mediator to help children to come to an agreement in cases where their residency or custody is in dispute, such as in divorce proceedings.
Simon Hughes, Family Justice Minister, said: “Children and young people must by law have their views heard before decisions are made about their future, and where decisions are made that will impact them. At the moment, it is still too often that their views are not heard.
“Our commitment to giving children the chance to speak to a judge and make clear their views means children will not only be seen in family courts but they will have their own voice heard. This will put them firmly at the heart of the Family Justice System.”