It has long been debated as to whether children should be able to have a voice in court proceedings which concern them and if so, from what age?
The government has recently announced its commitment that from the age of 10, children and young people involved in all family court hearings will have access to Judges to make their views and feelings known. This follows a call from the Family Justice Young People’s Board, the young peoples’ representative group, that for too long children have had little or no say in respect of the decisions being made about their lives.
The Justice Minister will now be working with the President of the Family Division, other family court Judges, CAFCASS (Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service), local councils and young people to implement the change.
Currently children’s wishes and feelings are ascertained via talks with an appointed CAFCASS officer. There is no set age as to when a child or young person should be spoken to with cases being reported of very young children being spoken to.
The age of 10 is thought appropriate given that this is the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales and it is positive to see that this is considered as a starting point and that it would not exclude children younger than 10 if it is deemed suitable. I also feel that giving children direct access to Judges is positive so that the Judges can meet with the children they are making decisions about.
Some caution must however be exercised so that parents do not put pressure on children and involve them too heavily in what are adult decisions. We will wait to see the changes that are introduced to give effect to this.