The Ministry of Justice has announced that it is to work with Family Court judges, Cafcass and young people in a bid to give children a greater voice in the family justice system.
Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said the Government was committed to giving children, from the age of 10, and young people involved in all family court hearings in England and Wales – both public and private law – access to judges “to make their views and feelings known”.
In a speech to a Family Justice Young People’s Board conference, Hughes said: “Children and young people must by law have their views heard before decisions are made about their future, and where decisions are made that will impact them. At the moment, it is still too often that their views are not heard.
“Our commitment to giving children the chance to speak to a judge and make clear their views means children will not only be seen in family courts but they will have their own voice heard. This will put them firmly at the heart of the Family Justice System.”
The minister continued: “Why 10? It seems to me wrong that a 10 year old in England and Wales is deemed old enough to be criminally responsible yet has no automatic voice in family proceedings in which decisions are being made about them.
“Children and young people should be involved and be seen to be involved. And if a child younger than 10 years is able to express themselves and wishes to do so then they too should have that opportunity.
“Though of course we must also recognise that where a child or young person is too vulnerable and needs their views to be represented by others, this also should be the case.”
The MoJ said the Government would also work with the mediation sector so that children had appropriate access to mediators in cases which affected them.
“The changes that will effect public and private law cases will be implemented as soon as is practically possible,” the MoJ promised.