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New guidelines for judges to talk to children in court

Date:10 MAY 2010

Family Justice CouncilThe Family Justice Council has published new Guidelines for judges prepared to meet children who are the subject of court proceedings.

The Guidelines, which have been approved by the President of the Family Division, were prepared by the Voice of the Child sub-committee of the Family Justice Council. A DVD accompanies the Guidelines and will be distributed to all judges and magistrates in England and Wales. The DVD shows three young people expressing their views that judges should meet children who want to see them and that judges should be prepared to hear what children and young people have to say before making important decisions in their lives.

 The authors of the Guidelines, Judge Clifford Bellamy, Judge John Platt and District Judge Nicholas Crichton have written an article in June's edition of Family Law entitled Talking to Children: the Judicial Perspective. In the article the judges argue for the need to protect children in participation rather than protecting them from participation.

"We accept that when we meet with children we must ensure that they are not led to believe that they will be responsible for the decision made by the court; we accept that we must not place them in the middle of their parents' conflict; we accept that we must be honest with them about the problem of confidentiality; we accept that we must not make promises to them about the ultimate outcome; we accept that we must be alive to the risk that the views the child expresses to us may be tainted by the toxic influence of one or other of their parents; but in our opinion all of this points to the need for good quality judicial training and not to the need to deny to a child who wishes to speak to us the right to do so," the judges conclude.

 Subscribers of Family Law Online will be able to read the article from 20 May 2010 in advance on the printed edition a week later. The Guidelines can be downloaded below.