Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, gave a speech at the 6th annual ‘Voice of the child’ conference on 24 July 2018, where he urged the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) to continue their ‘fight’ to improve the family justice system, despite recent setbacks.
Munby highlighted that, despite the work done by the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group and the Family Procedure Rule Committee and the pressure placed on the Government by many including himself, no progress has been achieved in relation to how the family justice system should meet the aspirations and needs of children who want to come to court, to see the court, give evidence or to meet the judge.
Sir James described other recent setbacks as ‘deeply depressing’. These include the Government's failure to legislate to prevent the cross-examination of victims of abuse and the failure of the rules in FPR, Part 3A and the new Practice Direction 3AA, which took effect in November 2017, to go far enough to protect the needs of vulnerable witnesses and parties as the court does not have power to ‘direct that public funding must be available to provide a [special] measure’.
Sir James noted that the FPRC have worked up detailed proposals in relation to how to accomodate children who wish to come to court - including new draft rules and a draft practice direction - however they have not been approved by the Government due to their 'assessed operational impacts', or as Sir James said:
'In plain English, it means it would all cost too much'.
In his conclusion Sir James, who retires as President of the Family Division this week, stated:
‘You must continue fighting. You, the FYPB, have a vital role to play in the ongoing struggle to improve the family justice system. You know what needs to be done. Your voice is clear and important. You must continue speaking truth to power and arguing for what is right. Like the child in Hans Christian Anderson's famous fairy tale, you must not be afraid to say that "The emperor has no clothers." You and all our other children and young people are our future. We ignore you at our peril.’
Read his speech in full here