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President of the Family Division supports voice of the child

Date:30 JUL 2014
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Journals Manager + Online Editor
Children should have the chance to tell judges what they think and feel in family court cases affecting them - according to the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB), a group made up of young people with first hand experience of family justice.

This was the central tenent of the FJYPB Voice of the Child Conference, held in London 24 July 2014. 

The conference was set up, run and hosted by more than 30 children and young people. It was argued that for too long children have been damaged by confrontational court cases and pushed and pulled through the family justice system with little or no say on what happens to them.

The conference emphasised to Ministers and judges the importance of the voice of the child in Family Court cases and family mediation. 

Age 21, FJYPB member Usman Ali, from Halifax said:

'Judges wield considerable power over a child’s life. It is important that when long term decisions are being made the child’s needs, wishes and feelings should be heard so that they feel included and involved in decisions made about their life.

Today’s conference is about showing senior decision makers that if children are to be at the heart of the Family Justice system then their voice needs to be heard.'
The conference was opened by Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes who announced that the government has made the commitment that from the age of 10, children and young people involved in all family court hearings in England and Wales will have access to judges to make their views and feelings known.

The top family judge in England and Wales, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, also delivered a keynote message on the importance of all children and young people being given the opportunity to communicate with professionals, including judges and magistrates, who should also consider the best way to inform the child of the final order.

In his closing address, Sir James Munby expressed his support for the government initiative. He said that the newly announced government policy not only places children at the centre of the family justice system, it also gives them a greater voice to ensure their views and feelings are heard. 'Anybody who doubts the importance of this has only to listen to some of today's presentations.'

He said that the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group chaired by Hayden J and Russell J has been tasked with looking at the related issues of children meeting judges and children giving evidence in family proceedings, which feed into the wider issue of how family courts deal with vulnerable witnesses. The Group will look at all these issues holistically, revisiting Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family Proceedings [2010] 2 FLR 1872 and Guidelines on Children Giving Evidence in Family Proceedings [2012] Fam Law 79. He said, 'Joined up debate about all this is needed and I hope to have something for public consultation well before the end of the year.'

Other panelists included Justice Stephen Cobb and Justice Peter Jackson from the Family Division of the High Court, Kathryn Blair from the Dot Com Children’s Foundation and Sue Berelowitz from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

A video message from Lady Hale, the Deputy President of The Supreme Court, emphasising the need for judges and legal professionals to directly hear the voice of the child or young person, for both the benefit of the judge and for the child, was also shown.

The conference was a great success and testament to the courageous, innovative and inspiring nature of the children and young people that organised and ran the event.