In a speech prepared for the Society of Legal Scholars Centenary Lecture, Supreme Court Judge Baroness Hale said that the law still found it difficult to view children as real people.
The lecture took place in November and was held at the University of Essex, however a transcript of the speech has only just been made available on the Supreme Court’s website. The speech, entitled “All Human Beings? Reflections on the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights” looks at how the law views children and how human rights legislation should be challenging those perceptions. Lady Hale also considers how the law affects people with disabilities.
In her speech, Lady Hale offers two examples of how the law fails to treat children as human beings. The first example relates to the language the law uses to describe children. Lady Hale says:
“We still find a child referred to as ‘it’ in legislation, law reports and learned legal publications. As Michael Freeman has written, ‘calling a child an “it” gives the game away. It constitutes the textual abuse of childhood in the English-speaking world . . . the word dehumanises the person who is the subject of these proceedings.”
The second example she offers looks at the way court judgments identify children in proceedings through the use of initials, but offers thought-provoking observations on getting the balance right in this context:
“In the interests of anonymity, we insist on referring to children in judgments by soulless initials, such as T, rather than as real people. So I always try and refer to a child by a plausible name, even though not her own… Julia Brophy’s research-based ‘do’s and don’ts’ for judges anonymising judgments contains the following… ‘some children do not like the use of pseudonyms and such practices can present problems for some minority ethnic families.’ The answer, I think, is to consult the children (if old enough) or their families about how they would like to be named.
Lady Hale goes on to talk about the best interests of the child and how the idea has been interpreted throughout the years, current obstacles to implementing laws that would bolster child welfare, the distinction between ‘welfare’ and ‘best interests’ (Lady Hale explains that children’s best interests are wider in scope than welfare) and mental capacity.