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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

18 MAR 2015

Vulnerable Witnesses and Children Working Group final report – evidence in Family Courts

Vulnerable Witnesses and Children Working Group final report – evidence in Family Courts
The final report and recommendations of the Vulnerable Witnesses and Children Working Group has been published.

The Working Group (headed by Hayden J and Russell J) was set up by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division last year to review the guidelines for judges meeting children subject to family proceedings and guidance on them giving evidence.

The report also looks at the wider issue of vulnerable people giving evidence in family proceedings and compares it to the current practice in criminal cases.

The aims of the Working Group were set out in the 12th View from the President's Chamber: The process of reform: next steps published on 4th June 2014:

'First, it is time to review the Family Justice Council’s April 2010 Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children who are Subject to Family Proceedings [2010] 2 FLR 1872, particularly in the light of the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Re KP [2014] EWCA Civ 554, [2014] 2 FLR (forthcoming).

Secondly, it is time to review the Family Justice Council’s Working Party’s December 2011Guidelines on Children Giving Evidence in Family Proceedings [2012] Fam Law 79. Those Guidelineswere prepared following the decision of the Supreme Court in Re W (Children) (Abuse: Oral Evidence) [2010] UKSC 12, [2010] 1 FLR 1485. Since then we have had the decision of the Supreme Court in Re LC (Reunite: International Child Abduction Centre Intervening) [2014] UKSC 1, [2014] 1 FLR (forthcoming and reported in April [2014] Fam Law 408).

Thirdly, there is a pressing need for us to address the wider issue of vulnerable people giving evidence in family proceedings, something in which the family justice system lags woefully behind the criminal justice system. This includes the inadequacy of our procedures for taking evidence from alleged victims, a matter to which Roderic Wood J drew attention as long ago as 2006: H v L and R [2006] EWHC 3099 (Fam), [2007] 2 FLR 162. As HHJ Wildblood QC observed in Re B (A Child) (Private law fact finding – unrepresented father), D v K [2014] EWHC 700 (Fam), para 6(ii), processes which we still tolerate in the Family Court are prohibited by statute in the Crown Court. We must be cautious before we rush forward to reinvent the wheel. A vast amount of thought has gone into crafting the arrangements now in place in the criminal courts: see for example, in addition to theCriminal Procedure Rules, the Criminal Practice Directions [2013] EWCA Crim 1631, CPD 3D-3G, the Judicial College’s Equal Treatment Bench Book, Lord Judge’s Bar Council Annual Law Reform Lecture 2013, The Evidence of Child Victims: the Next Stage, the Criminal Bar Association’s DVD, A Question of Practice, and the relevant ‘toolkits’ on ‘The Advocate’s Gateway’, funded and promoted by the Advocacy Training Council: www.theadvocatesgateway.org/toolkits. We need to consider the extent to which this excellent work can be adapted for use in the Family Division and the Family Court.

The Working Party will need to build on the experiences of judges in the Family Division and the Family Court who have had to deal with these issues, particularly in the more recent past. But it is also vital that the Working Party taps into and incorporates in its thinking both the highly relevant and thought-provoking views of the Family Justice Young People’s Board and the inter-disciplinary expertise of the Family Justice Council.'
The conclusions and recommendations are from paragraph 35 onwards.

Vulnerable Witnesses and Children Working Group final report – evidence in Family Courts is available to download here.

Further downloads:

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