01/09/2006

Children to be consulted on family courts

Young people are to be consulted on plans to make the courts more child friendly in an online forum which becomes active today.

The Department of Constitutional Affairs is seeking children's views on a variety of ideas, including: new guidelines for giving children their own legal representation in their parents' separation cases and judges speaking to children involved in their parents' separation cases or in care proceedings to ask their views and tell them the court's decision.

At present most family court proceedings are held in private, with the media not allowed in. The decisions taken are also generally not made public. The government has admitted that this has led to a perception that the courts operate in secret, leading to a loss of public confidence and trust in the family courts. It can also prove difficult for adults who have been involved in family court proceedings as children to get accurate court information relating to their case.

Launching the forum, which will run until October 9, Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman said: “It is vital that children know what is going on (in care proceedings or their parents' separation cases) and are told what has been decided and why. Either through having separate legal representation or being able to speak to the judge hearing the case.”

Ms Harman also said that the government was examining how the details of a judgement could be given to children involved in such cases when they become an adult. She said: “Currently it is difficult for a child, when they become an adult to find out why the family court ordered that they should live with mother and not see father – or vice versa. Or why they had been taken into care and placed for adoption. In later life, they could be told why certain decisions were made by the court when they were young.

“The online forum will enable children to tell the DCA what they think of these proposals and whether they think they would help them. A child's life can be irrevocably affected by a decision of the family courts and I want their opinions to be fully considered as we develop plans to improve the family courts.”

The online discussion form is at www.ofcf.net and will run until October 9.

Users will be asked to register some demographic information but no personal details will be visible to other users

Young people will be able to use online aliases to give their views anonymously and freely and the comments will be moderated to ensure that no information that could identify those involved can be viewed publicly.

(KMcA/SP)

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