A few months ago
I was asked to speak on a panel at the Voice of the Child Conference 2014
topic was whether the family court is the right
solution for cases involving children and young people. I was asked because of
my children’s rights experience and the fact that I am just starting a career at
In October I will start my pupillage at New Court Chambers
and for the
past year I have been working full time at Dot Com Children’s Foundation
. Dot Com Children’s Foundation enables children to recognise the importance of
positive values and empowers them to make safer choices throughout their lives.
We do this through journals that are used at school during PSHE lessons
(Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education).
Before this, and before
interning in the legal world, I also volunteered at a number of national
In considering whether the family court is
the right solution, I asked myself three questions:
- What do we want to achieve when we say that the child’s welfare is the paramount
- What problems are there in the current system?
- What could be solution to these problems?
to answer the first of these questions I thought back to my studies. From my experience, it seems
that what we want to achieve, when dealing with cases that involve children, is
to ensure that the best interests of the child are always at the forefront of
This should involve giving the child a voice and making them feel as though
they have been listened to and acknowledged; it should also help the child to
feel safe. Even for adults who are regularly involved in the new proceedings, the court
experience can be difficult to understand. For a child, some knowledge and
understanding of the proceedings is required in order to feel safe.
this needs to be done in an appropriate manner which suits the ability of the
child. We must be cautious not to equate the best interests of the child simply
with overall or lifelong interests, but to include an assessment of current
best interests as well.
relatively limited legal experience with courts and children, I decided to use
my charity work contacts to help in considering how to answer the second
question. When developing its programmes, Dot Com
Foundation works closely with schools and so I have met a number of brilliant
teaching and support staff. I asked what they have learnt about the courts through their
overall consensus seemed to be that the court system is currently better than
mediation, but there is no reason why mediation, or another form of alternative
dispute resolution, could not be more suitable. There were a number
of children who had been invited in to speak to the judge and who felt that
they had been treated well by the court.
The main issue with mediation seemed
to be that parents did not always take it seriously. The biggest priority for
the education professionals with whom I spoke was that the child should have
someone to talk to about their feelings. Although many judges are good at this,
it can sometimes be left until quite late in the proceedings.
Mediators have a
tendency not to
talk to the children and decisions about a child’s future can therefore be
made without any input from them. I have also spoken to some judges concerning
their experiences and they worry about what should be done with the information
divulged by the child. When looking at mediation, a concern shared by some of
the teaching staff was that mediators have not necessarily been trained in how
to talk to children.