Memorandum submitted by Association of Lawyers for Children (CS 19)

 

The Association of Lawyers for Children's core aim is to promote justice for children and young people and establish properly funded legal mechanisms to enable them to have access to justice. In that capacity we liaise with all participants in the family justice network to ensure that children's voices and experiences are central to decision making.

 

We have organised day conferences run by young people attended by lawyers, judges, the President of the Family Division and Ministry of Justice representatives to inform those who make decisions about their lives in court to learn about their experience of the process. Cafcass Young People's Board participated in those assisted by their Children's Rights Officer and lawyer, as did NYAS.

 

We are represented on the Family Justice Council Voice of the Child committee chaired by District Judge Crichton on which two young people from the Cafcass Young People's Board sit and assist.

 

We have had regular discussions over the last five years with senior management at Cafcass since the first government consultation on press attendance and reporting in the family courts. During all these exchanges we have never been told or formed the opinion that Cafcass and the Young People's Board support press reporting of their lives. Indeed following a radio broadcast in which it was suggested that they 'would not mind if it was anonymous' we raised the issue at a formal meeting on 7th July 2009 with the Chief Executive of Cafcass who confirmed that press attendance and reporting was not supported by Cafcass. This was repeated by the Chief Executive and three Young People Board members at a Cafcass Open Day in Bristol on 11th December 2009.

 

We have asked for a transcript of a meeting that took place between Cafcass Young People's Board representatives and press members in which they apparently said something different, but understand that there is no transcript. We are cautious about the views reported to have been expressed in that meeting which do not reflect our long experience and interactions with young people in this regard and consider it important to bring this to the attention of the Committee.

 

Long experience highlights the skill and expertise required to gauge children's views properly and effectively. 11 Million has sensibly commissioned research in this respect by well-respected independent researchers. The rights and views of children and young people should take centre place in these considerations; and we firmly believe that whatever that research indicates ought to be taken extremely seriously by this Committee.

 

January 2010