The ears of the child in family proceedings

24 SEP 2007

Sir Nicholas Wilson. In this year's Hershman/Levy memorial lecture, delivered to the Association of Lawyers for Children on 28 June 2007, Sir Nicholas Wilson asked, first, how can children express views, including, most importantly, their wishes for the future, save upon a platform of some understanding of the nature of the proceedings? The need for them, to an extent appropriate to their age, to understand the proceedings surrounding them goes far wider than a need to provide them with a platform for the effective expression of their views. Those who work in the family justice system need to be more imaginative about the nature and depth of the perplexities, frustrations, worries and fears of children who are the subject of family proceedings.

What do the children know about the proceedings? About the way in which they develop? About their time-scale? About the nature of the issues? Or about the range of possible results? Children's understanding of legal proceedings, if any, may well be derived largely from criminal trials on television or from information, probably misinformation, from friends and older siblings. They may ask themselves questions like: 'Will there be a jury? Will Mum or Dad be sent to prison? Will it be my fault? Who is this guardian? Will I have to live with her? Will I be taken into care? Will any one want to have me? Will I ever see Mum and Dad again? Will they split me from my sister? Can my Nan adopt me?'. Our system, of which in general we have much to be proud, is largely oblivious of the damaging bewilderment of children caught up in family proceedings. There is an urgent need to devise a system by which, not just in some but in all types of family proceedings, we can dispel such of the fears of children as can honestly be dispelled, inform them to some extent about the nature of the proceedings raging above their heads and answer some of the questions which are likely to beset them. For the full article, see September [2007] Fam Law.

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