The government is making changes so that children as young as 10 will be listened to in family proceedings.
The Justice Minister, Simon Hughes, has announced that the Government is intending to make changes so that children as young as 10 years old can make their wishes and feelings known to a judge during family proceedings.
The changes are being made in response to concerns raised about the lack of involvement children often have in the court process, even though the decisions made by the court can have significant and long-lasting effects on them.
The Justice Minister explained that the age of 10 was deemed an appropriate age limit because it is the minimum age for criminal responsibility in England and Wales and fits in with current policy and practice.
One particular group who have been campaigning to improve the way in which children are involved in the court process is the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB). They say that for too long children have been pushed and pulled through the family justice system with little or no say on what happens to them.
FJYPB member Kitty, age 15, from Leicestershire, told the Law Gazette about her experience with the courts: ‘In my case, I wasn’t kept well informed of developments and decision-making. This caused me to feel isolated, as if there was no one to share my concerns with or listen to my views directly.
‘Once I was able to meet the judge, it was a huge sense of relief. I felt as if my thoughts were being heard and taken into account, by who I understood to be the most influential individual in family court proceedings.’
The Ministry of Justice has said that they will be working with the Family Court judges, with the Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service and most importantly with young people themselves to implement these changes ‘as soon as is practically possible.’
Speaking at the Family Justice Young People’s Board the Justice Minister spoke about the reforms:
‘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.’ He said.
‘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.’