Children, campaigners and some Judges are calling for a change in the law so that children at the heart of family cases in England and Wales can talk in private to the Judge if they so choose, and that this should be an automatic right.
Many children, with whom parents are going through the Court system, are at the centre of bitter fights between parents. The decisions made by the Court and the words written within a Cafcass or Social Services report will have a fundamental impact on the child’s life.
Should a child, therefore, have an automatic right to speak to a Judge?
Cafcass prepare reports based on a child’s wishes and feelings, which are put before the Court. However, it is accepted that this is intended to protect the child, but many children may feel that they do not have a voice.
Further, what if that child is unable to speak to the Cafcass officer, either due to not feeling comfortable enough to do so, or due to fear of upsetting either parent or both, as both parents will have sight of such reports.
Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child states that the right of every child to freely express their views in all matter affecting them. The child should be entitled to have an opinion, express that opinion and know that their opinion has been taken into account.
Does the family Court system allow this?
Sir James Munby had once said that it had struck him as curious that children were invisible in family cases. There have been high-profile cases such as Lord Justice Jackson visiting a child in hospital (as she was too unwell to attend Court) who had cancer and who wanted her body cryogenically frozen. Lord Justice Jackson decided to allow the cryogenically freezing to go ahead.
Whilst it is understandable that some children may feel intimated by speaking to a Judge – should all children automatically have the right to speak to a Judge if they so wish? Or should only high-profile matters be considered?
What about those considered vulnerable?
What is then considered to be high-profile, and why should those children who are too scared to speak to their parents or Cafcass officer not have the option to speak to the person who in fact decides what will happen? Should only children after a certain age be able to do so?
Protecting children should be the Court’s focus.
The information provided in this article is not intended to constitute legal advice and you should take full and comprehensive legal advice on your individual circumstances by a fully qualified Solicitor before you embark on any course of action.
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