Children to be given greater voice in private/public law proceedings

The Government has announced plans to provide children over the age of 10 with a greater voice in care proceedings and private law proceedings (involving where a child is to live).

Currently, the Children Act 1989 requires the court to consider “the wishes and feelings” of a child “in light of their age and understanding”. However, it is believed by officials that this consideration is often overlooked. Justice Minister Simon Hughes said “Children and young people have a right to be heard before decisions are made which could impact on them and their future”. He went further and said “Too often that legal right is not being exercised or it is being interpreted to mean others can make a presumption about a child’s view – often for the best of intentions and acting in their interest, but nevertheless the outcome is that the child does not feel that their own distinct voice has been heard”. The Family Justice Review, which was completed in 2011, called for clear steps to be made to ensure children were able to make their views known within court proceedings. The Review recommends that young children should be supported in making their views known, while older children should be offered a menu of options setting out the ways their views could be heard and considered. It is hoped that the proposals will introduce some progressive and practical ways to ensure that children are more included in proceedings which concern them and how their future is shaped.

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