The President’s12th 'View from the President’s Chambers
', published on 4 June 2014,
introduced two working groups which were to produce their interim reports by 31 July 2014; the Children and Vulnerable Witness Working Group and the Financial
Remedies Working Group (who are working on the new Money Arrangements Programme
- the MAP). Those reports have now been
released and contain a lot of reading for the family practitioner. There is a wealth of content and we are
producing essential updates designed to give family law professionals a neat
summary of the need-to-know points.
In a nutshell
The President’s 12th View set out three main aims
for the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group headed by Hayden J and
Russell J. The Working Group has now published an interim report
, a summary of which is set out below.
12 August 2014 -
report was circulated.
Further consultation is now to take place, with Family
Division Judges and the Family Justice Counsel, followed by a wider
consultation once the draft rules have been refined.
Late October 2014
- It is intended that the proposed rule changes are to be put before the Family
Procedure Rule Committee (FPRC) . The Working Group is scheduled to meet again in
early October for further discussion of the draft rules.
Beginning of 2015
- The aim is to have the changes in place by the beginning of 2015.
Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group Interim Report
Summary of the
1. Review of the Family Justice Council’s April
2010 Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family
Proceedings  2 FLR 1872
Practitioners will be aware of the MoJ announcement made on 24 July 2014 that children are to be given the opportunity to meet and communicate
with the professionals involved with their case. This is to include Cafcass workers, social
workers, the judges and legal representatives.
The report refers to the Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP's speech to the Family
Justice Young People's Board 'Voice of the Child' conference, which can be read
2. Review of the
Family Justice Council’s Working Party’s December 2011 Guidelines on Children
Giving Evidence in Family Proceedings  Fam Law 79
3. Review of the
issue of vulnerable people giving evidence in family proceedings
The second and third issues to be tackled by the working
group have a considerable amount of overlap, children are inherently vulnerable
witnesses. The report therefore
addresses both these issues together.
The intention is to build upon the work done by the Advocacy
Training Council (ATC) as set out in their 2011 report, Raising
. The principles contained in
the report have been successful in the criminal justice system, and the Working
Group intend to adapt those principles for use in the family justice system. This is to include the provision of training
for advocates as well as support for witnesses to give their evidence where
The benefits of this are considered to be creating the
optimum conditions for the giving of evidence and a more effective and
efficient use of court time, both of which promote a greater likelihood of a
The Advocates’ Gateway is preparing a toolkit for use in
family proceedings containing general guidance for family lawyers and advocates. This is currently in draft format and is due
to be published in October 2014.
The report details efforts made by some judges on their own
initiative to assist vulnerable witnesses, His Honour Judge Clive Heaton QC is
specifically thanked for his contributions.
The fact that judges have needed to take these steps is cited as a
further illustration of the need for a formal procedure across the family
Work so far
The Working Group took some time to consider whether the term
'vulnerable witnesses' is the most appropriate one, but concluded that it
remains appropriate for the term to be used.
The group also considered whether reform needs to be focused
on public law, as parents in care cases are often vulnerable, and on private
law cases involving domestic abuse.
Attention was drawn to the cases where domestic abuse victims face cross-examination
by the alleged abused directly, rather than by an advocate, due to the
unavailability of public funding. See
the President’s judgment in Q
v Q; Re B; Re C  EWFC 31
,  2 FLR (forthcoming) on this and other related issues. However reform is to apply to all family
cases from the outset.
The review of the guidance for judges seeing children will be
taking place alongside the consideration of the reforms for vulnerable
witnesses. There is a pilot scheme currently taking place
in York where any child over the age of 10 is to be given the opportunity to
see the judge. The progress of this
pilot scheme will be reported back to the Working Group.
The ATC are willing to provide guidance and toolkits for
advocates in the family courts, and a further meeting is due to take place
regarding this in late September/early October 2014.