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Children get a voice in family court decisions

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Giving children a greater voice in the family justice system so they can tell judges how they feel and what they think about the family disputes they are involved in, has been welcomed by Care Solicitors at Pearsons.

Children and young people from the age of 10 involved in all family court hearings in England and Wales will soon have access to judges to make their views and feelings known following a recent Government announcement.

The announcement was made following calls from the Family Justice Young People’s Board.  Family Justice Minister Simon 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.  This will put them firmly at the heart of the Family Justice System.”

The age of 10 is consistent with other existing policy and practice in this country. It is the age of criminal responsibility for young people in England and Wales.

The changes which will effect public and private law cases will be implemented as soon as is practically possible.

Family Judges, Children and Family Courts

The Ministry of Justice will be working with the Family Court judges, with the Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service as well as young people themselves to implement this change.

Commenting on the proposals, Stacy Fox, Care Solicitor at Pearsons said:  “This gives children the opportunity to really say what they would like to happen within their own family dispute, rather than family members and professionals saying it for them.  Whilst the family members and professionals no doubt have their best interests at heart, it can often be an interpretation of what the child wants, rather than a direct repetition of what they actually want.”

However the proposal does not mean that a child gets to decide his / her future; parents and the courts make decisions on behalf of the children because they are just that, children, and cannot always make important decisions in their own right.

Stacy added:  “All children have different levels of maturity and that must also be a factor when assessing their wishes, however the proposal allows them to be involved in the decision making process to a much greater degree.

“The age of 12 has often been considered the age when “children have their say”.  It is interesting that the government is proposing the age of 10, which brings it in line with the age of criminal responsibility.  That is an important point, because rightly so if children are fully responsible for their own actions at the age of 10 how can they not be old enough to express a view on arrangements for their own care.”

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Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

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