When Adam met the Judge
Adam: “Hi Judge. If you send me and my brothers home, will you give us a bodyguard?”
Judge: “Adam, if I thought you needed a bodyguard, I wouldn’t send you home.”
Partner Nick Hodson of the Group’s specialist family and children law practice, McAlister Family Law, has specialised in the law relating to children for more than 20 years. Since 2001 he has been a member of the Law Society Children’s Panel, allowing him to represent children in both public and private law Children Act proceedings.
Here, he relates his experience of being the solicitor for Adam* and his brothers who wanted to meet the Judge who was going to hear their case.
Please be aware that reading some of the details in this story may be distressing.
*His name has been changed to protect his identity
This exchange was at a meeting at the Family Court when I took 11-year-old Adam and his brothers to meet the Judge who was going to hear their case.
I was the solicitor for the children. They had been removed from their parents care after the older children had made allegations that they had been physically abused by their parents. The children had said that they had been whipped with computer wires.
The child’s wishes and feelings
In making any decision about a child’s future, their wishes and feelings are a major consideration for the court. They are part of the welfare checklist that the court will review before concluding the case.
How are the children’s views relayed to the court?
Usually, the social worker and the CAFCASS officer will set out the children’s wishes and feelings in their reports. Sometimes, the children will write a letter to the Judge.
It has become increasingly common for older children to ask to meet the Judge. Over the past 18 months, such meetings have had to take place remotely. The Family Justice Council has produced guidance for judges who meet children during family proceedings. The guidelines are designed to encourage judges to enable children to feel more involved and connected to proceedings.
Key points from the guidance
* Such a meeting must be well planned and that everyone has to have a clear understanding of the purpose of the meeting.
* If a Judge decides to meet a child, it is a matter for the discretion of the Judge, having considered representations from the parties – (i) the purpose and proposed content of the meeting; (ii) at what stage during the proceedings, or after they have concluded, the meeting should take place; (iii) where the meeting will take place; (iv) who will bring the child to the meeting; (v) who will prepare the child for the meeting (this should usually be the Cafcass officer); (vi) who shall attend during the meeting – although a Judge should never see a child alone; (vii) by whom a minute of the meeting shall be taken, how that minute is to be approved by the Judge, and how it is to be communicated to the other parties.
* It cannot be stressed too often that the child’s meeting with the Judge is not for the purpose of gathering evidence.
* The purpose is to enable the child to gain some understanding of what is going on, and to be reassured that the Judge has understood him/her.
In the case of Adam and his brothers, at the final hearing the court decided that the parents had been responsible for the physical abuse on all their children. The children remained in foster care.
The children’s voices had been heard loud and clear.
If you are affected by any of the issues raised here, please do get in touch. We’re here to help you.