It has been announced by the government that children will have a greater say in how conflicts will be resolved in Family Court proceedings, which will mean that children as young as 10 years old will be able to express their views to the presiding judge.
In England and Wales, there are approximately 270,000 new cases dealt with each year by the Family Courts, which deal with issues such as adoption, divorce, and domestic violence, with children’s welfare and future residence often among the main concerns.
Family Courts were created in 2013 and reforms were implemented earlier this year, and they have been subject to a lot of criticism for their perceived ‘secrecy’, their closed sessions, and the inability of children to share their views regarding decisions that affect their futures.
Children’s opinions may be considered in proceedings under current law, but the justice system often does not facilitate this easily, meaning they are not always given full consideration.
The Family Justice Young People’s Board, an association of 40 young people and children who have experience of the family justice system or who are interested in it in some way, has led a campaign to allow children a greater voice in the decision-making process that affects them, arguing that it is unfair to deny children the right to voice their opinions.
Family Justice Young People’s Board has welcomed the ministry’s announcement that plans will be implemented as soon as possible.
Another significant change proposed by the government is the appointment of a mediator who would assist children in cases where their residency or custody are disputed, such as in divorce proceedings.
The Minister for Family Justice, Simon Hughes, says children and young people need to have their voices heard before decisions are made about their future and when decisions will affect them. They are not heard too often at the moment.
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