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Family Courts

Volume 454: debated on Monday 11 December 2006

To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs whether her Department is considering proposals to give magistrates (a) the authority and (b) the training to deal directly with children within the family courts system; and if she will make a statement. (108456)

Magistrates are already able to deal with children directly under Part 21(3)(e) of the Family Proceedings Court (Children Act 1989) Rules 1991. There is an onus on the court under section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989 to ascertain the child’s wishes considered in light of age and understanding, in cases where a children’s guardian was appointed to act on behalf of the child or a Children and Family Reporter was requested to supply a report dealing with the child’s wishes.

It is not possible to indicate what training may be required in advance of any legislative change.

The Separate Representation of Children consultation paper published on 1 September 2006 proposes a cultural change that will achieve a more child-centred family justice system. The consultation asks whether judges (including magistrates) should speak to children as a matter of course. The consultation is now closed and the findings of the consultation paper will be published in the new year.

Separately, the “Review of the Child Care Proceedings System, in England and Wales”, published in May 2006, recommended that the judiciary should be encouraged to address families directly during care proceedings, avoiding legal jargon. This is beingtaken forward by the judiciary together with other recommendations from this review. However, consideration will be given to how judicial training and best practice guidance can support this.