Children’s Rights Alliance welcomes new vision for Family Justice Strategy
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The Children’s Rights Alliance welcomes the publication of the first Family Justice Strategy which outlines a new vision for the reform of the family justice system.
Speaking in response to the publication, Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said: “This Family Justice Strategy outlines a vision for change in our family justice system that is long overdue and much needed. It is the beginning of a long journey ahead to ensure that our justice system is one that works for children and families, but it is very positive to see that this vision for guiding this change is one that places children and young people at the very centre. We need to ensure that the strategy is supported with adequate resources to begin implementation without delay as children and young people have waited long enough for action.”
“To build a justice system that meets and responds to the needs of children and young people engaging with it, their voices must be a central part of the process. The need to support children in this journey was considered by those consulted to be the single most important aspect of the family justice system and it will be critical to the success of this strategy,” continued Tanya Ward.
“The child-centred approach in this strategy builds a strong foundation for reform. For too long, children in court proceedings have been an afterthought. In order to ensure the best interests of the child are taken into consideration, the voice of the child must be heard and respected. It is positive to see a long-term commitment to review just how effective the system is at hearing the voice of the child and to steer the development of mechanisms that would enhance how the system and practitioners hear the voice of the child in all family justice matters.”
“Legal professionals are a pivotal part of delivering the vision for a reformed family justice system. It is positive to see a focus on the need for standardised, child-focused training and the development of guidelines and protocols to assist judges when interviewing children in family law cases. This will support the system to respond to the needs and rights of children which will in turn, improve children’s own experience of the legal system.”
“Reform of the family justice system must ensure that children’s journey through the legal system is far more child-friendly than it is at present. While there is a strong focus on the need to develop child-friendly information and guidelines for professionals within the strategy, it is essential that Government also look to the physical environment and what improvements are needed. This should include child-friendly spaces for interviews and waiting rooms which are currently not designed with children in mind. Further consideration should also be given to how to ensure that key services are developed to support families going through the courts system.”
“For many children and young people, engaging with the legal system can be a daunting and stressful experience. Any reform of the family justice system must take into consideration how accessible supports are for children and young people. We often hear from children and families on how difficult it is to navigate the system. We welcome the recommendation to ‘develop and deliver child-friendly and accessible information and material’ that will help children and young people to better understand their situation and the decisions being made in their case. This will also support families to reach a resolution in a speedy manner and where possible, resolve disputes away from the courts."
"Through our legal information services, we are constantly reminded of the barriers that are in place for some children and young people in accessing legal support and information that can guide them through the legal process. The strategy points in the right direct for change as it commits to exploring avenues outside of information provision, with research into the benefits of appointing a designated role (Child Liaison Officer) to support and guide children through the legal system and further development of the Guardian ad Litem service. Given the delays experienced during the pandemic, we need to see this work commence as soon as possible.”
“The strategy published today is an important recognition of the shortcomings in the current system and the need to place children and families at the heart of future reforms. We now need to ensure that the commitments for children are prioritised and progressed without delay,” concluded Tanya Ward.