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Louisa Gothard
Louisa Gothard
Senior Solicitor, Head of Family Law
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Hearing children in family proceedings: can judges make a difference?
Date:12 JUN 2007

Fiona E Raitt, Professor, School of Law, University of Dundee. In family proceedings in England and Wales, children rarely have access to the ultimate decision-maker, the judge. What difference could it make to children if judges assumed more responsibility for the children's involvement? In this article the author looks at the findings of a study where Scottish judges spoke about the circumstances in which they chose to speak to children and their reasons for doing so. In Scotland the concept of judges speaking to children has always been an option at common law and is reinforced by the Children (Scotland) Act 1985. In England and Wales a judge is recommended to speak directly to the child only in certain clearly defined circumstances. A number of English judges have now started to question this orthodoxy. Can judges who speak to children directly produce more informed decisions and are they in a position to make a significant difference to a child's experience of participation? The author considers the principles and problems in conflict in this issue, and argues that the act of inclusion of a child in the legal process can be an important signal to the child that he or she matters. For the full article see Child and Family Law Quarterly, Vol 19, No 2, 2007.

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