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01 APR 2011

Child Witnesses in Family Proceedings: Should Intermediaries be Showing Us the Way?

Penny Cooper

Professor, City Law School, City University London

The law's approach to children giving evidence has changed dramatically in recent years. This article describes how Ministry of Justice registered intermediaries facilitate communication with vulnerable witnesses. It also details what needs to happen in order for there to be a family court intermediary scheme which will help children and other vulnerable witnesses give their best evidence.

The law on children giving evidence is now as stated by the Supreme Court in Re W (Children) (Abuse: Oral Evidence) [2010] UKSC 12, [2010] 1 FLR 1485. In setting the test for the future, the court identified two principal considerations: the advantages which hearing from the child will bring to the determination of the truth in the case, and the damage that that process may do to the child. The welfare of the child is a relevant but not paramount consideration. The object of the proceedings is to promote the welfare of children and, accordingly, their interests may need to be given great weight. Baroness Hale exhorted the family courts to be realistic in evaluating how this can be done effectively and to be prepared to consider approaching the issue in ways that it was not used to doing at present.

To read the rest of this article, see April [2011] Family Law journal.

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