A very interesting piece has surfaced on the web this morning, which details how a report (not reproduced on-line unfortunately) highlights the need for judges to not only have a much higher level of training in areas which impact on family law, but that they should also be speaking directly with children about their cases.
The report and the statements have been made by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Child Protection (you can see which MPs and Peers are members here), and they go on to say that the reforms proposed in the new Children and Families Bill do not go far enough to address these kinds of issues.
Many of the fears expressed by this APPG are identical to the ones we’ve often written about – a lack of specialist expertise amongst judges (and in fact amongst those who are supposed to be expert witnesses in the field), highly pressurised work forces who are simply not able to dedicate enough time and effort to the children in these cases and last but by no means least, the very distinct lack of the Voice of The Child in these proceedings.
We are not sure quite what the APPG mean by their view that they would like to see judges speaking with children about their cases in care. We already have guidelines in place which encourage judges to speak to children, with some rather unreasonable exceptions we feel, in place, but these guidelines only provide for judges to speak about the process and not the child’s feelings or views about the details of his or her case, which we feel is not enough. (We have tried to find these guidelines on-line but oddly they seem to have gone, perhaps to make way for new guidelines. We shall see).
The article does seem to suggest that what’s being called for is much more intervention by judges than is currently allowed in the adversarial system and we are concerned that what appears to be a way of shifting the workload on to another demographic in the system may also be a political move which sees judges acquire more power but not more expertise, in a collaborative system which looks like it’s being phased in with the increased involvement of judges in this sector.
What we would like to see are better trained professionals all round, who benefit from compassionate, intelligent leadership, with support systems in place for both families and practitioners and to allow children to genuinely be at the heart of every decision made. And that can only happen if the system is in great shape.
We’re ambivalent about this APPG’s latest statement. It would be good if they could publish the report and clarify to what extent and under which circumstances children could speak with judges and of course, on what topics within their case. We would also like these APPGs to have websites, fully transparent on line, working websites which have all their reports and their activities posted. The APPG states on the Parliament website that it’s Secretariat is the NSPCC, which affords the charity a great deal of influence, but it is not clear whether there are any financial benefits to this arrangement. APPGs are wonderful vehicles, if they remain democratic, transparent and accessible to members of the public.
So, in principle, we agree with the APPG on Child Protection, but it would be great if they could engage with the debate further.