Operation of the Family Courts - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 40-75)

Dr Julia Brophy and Dr Lynne Harne

16 November 2010

Chair: Dr Julia Brophy from Oxford University and Dr Lynne Harne from Bristol University, thank you very much for joining us today. One of you has already been cited in evidence in the previous part of the session. We are very grateful for your help. I think Mr Buckland is starting.

Q40 Mr Buckland: Yes, thank you very much indeed. I want to start off by talking about the safe minimum service guidelines that were issued by the President of the Family Division and for a view as to their impact. Before doing that, can I give you a very brief example of a case that's been brought to my attention? It was a case that originally started back in 2008. Cafcass was unable to allocate it in time. It was then given to an independent social worker. Because of the new guidance, that social worker, having done a lot of work, was prohibited from actually doing the report. It went back to Cafcass, which, first, failed to allocate the report timeously, and secondly only saw the children concerned at the hearing. That is a particularly acute example of where things are going wrong. I would be grateful to hear from both of you your view of the implications for families as to the "safe minimum service" measures that Cafcass currently uses.

Dr Lynne Harne: My view is that they are too minimum at the moment. There's not necessarily a safeguarding of children in either public or private law cases. My main expertise in terms of research is in private law cases. As you've seen in my submission about my research, Cafcass was improving in that area by introducing certain safeguarding measures such as safeguarding checks and so on. It was compulsory that Cafcass did those with the police and children's services, and undertook risk identification. That research was done prior to them introducing these minimum safeguarding measures, if you like. Even at that time, the Cafcass officers who were actually doing the work were saying, "We often don't have enough time to do this properly." I think that the minimum safeguarding measures must be having an impact on cases both in public and private law. You know more about public law, Julia.

Dr Julia Brophy: I think the first thing to say about the "safe minimum standard" is, first, that we don't have a definition of it, so we don't know how it's practised within and across court circuits. Secondly, I think it's clearly not what Parliament envisaged in the Children Act. The statutory duty is the best interests of the child as determined by the court, but if the court doesn't have a guardian ,it loses that inquisitorial arm, which is crucial to the effective working of family courts, particularly in child protection. I think that the movement to this emergency footing is problematic. It is problematic for children, but it is increasingly problematic for the courts, which are charged with protecting children and moving forward as quickly and cost-effectively as they can.

I think that the Committee has the evidence from the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children. They have argued that actually this "safe minimum standard" does not protect children and it does not support the work of the court. The family justice system, as we all know, is currently under enormous pressure, but doesn't have the resources without a guardian to move forward in the way in which it clearly does want to but cannot do. The "safe minimum standard" is problematic because of a lack of definition. It doesn't allow the guardian to use their professional judgment in a way in which the Children Act initially envisaged. It is not beneficial to courts and it is certainly not beneficial to families. There is some evidence that families are beginning to be dissatisfied with the service that they're getting.

Q41 Mr Buckland: One report came to me that an independent social worker was told that she was providing a gold-plated service, whereas what they needed was a stainless steel service. Would that be a fair summation of where we are with the minimum standard?

Dr Julia Brophy: Gold-plated as opposed to stainless steel? Go back to the legislation. What does the legislation say? What was Parliament's intention in Part III and Part IV of the Children Act? The statutory obligations and the guidance for the role of the guardian is clear and simple. That's where we start. That was the intention of Parliament, and I think we have to accept that what we are dealing with now are two problems. One is the organisation of Cafcass and the way in which that has moved. The other issue is, of course, that some of these issues are Treasury-driven. They are to do with resources.

Q42 Mr Buckland: There is much talk about interdepartmental responsibilities and who is responsible for whom. Rather than talking about musical chairs, I wonder whether you agree with the view of His Honour Judge Bellamy, the designated family judge for Warwickshire and Coventry, who in his submission says that what matters is not which department is responsible for which agency but that there is interdepartmental co-operation that is strategic, coherent and efficient. Is that a fair summary of what is needed here, or do you think it is more complex than that?

Dr Lynne Harne: Yes, but that has been said for years. Interdepartmental efficiency and relating to each other in terms of actual strategy is key. I don't think it does matter in which department Cafcass is located. Cafcass should be regarded primarily as a safeguarding agency now. It's moved away from its role on agreement-seeking, and certainly in terms of private family law it should be regarded as a safeguarding agency and not in terms of mediation or anything else. That's my view. Its key role is in safeguarding children, whether in private or public law. That's what it should have the expertise to do. So where it is located needs to be where it can be most effective in safeguarding children. It needs to be focused on the best interests of the child and not the parents.

A lot of the stuff about mediation and so on is focused on the needs of the parents, not the child. Children must be safeguarded from risk of domestic violence and abuse, and from parents who are alcohol and drug abusers and parents who have severe mental health problems. Those are the main issues in both public and private law. Cafcass needs to identify those risks and do appropriate risk assessment and so on to weed those cases out. If the proposal is to go down the mediation route, all those cases need to be weeded out and properly decided on.

Q43 Mr Buckland: Accepting your point about boiling Cafcass down to its essentials and letting it get on with welfare issues, which is what the Children Act was all about—we must not lose sight of that—what about those cases where mediation would be appropriate, where you haven't got that danger, that risk element? What would be the independent input then? There would still need to be some independent input, wouldn't there?

Dr Lynne Harne: Cafcass should also have skills in seeking children's views. At the moment, as we've already heard before, children's views are in most cases not sought. Only when there is a court welfare report are their views sought. They are sought in public law, supposedly, but in private law children's views are not sought, and that is actually in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In terms of what the UK Government have actually signed up to, we have been in breach of that for years and years—not getting children's views in any proceedings that affect them. That is another role that Cafcass could have.

Q44 Chair: But are we not then asking an agency which can't even cope with its existing workload to do something which the court and the mediation process should do themselves?

Dr Lynne Harne: I don't think that Cafcass should be involved in mediation. They are social workers. They are now child protection officers, and they should be doing the screening of all cases. In private law they should be doing that screening and risk assessment, which is what they are supposed to do at the moment. This is happening at the moment.

Q45 Chair: The question I am asking is, if they have got all that to do, why use them as the agency to ascertain children's views when you could do that in some more direct form?

Dr Lynne Harne: Because you need people who are trained in interviewing children. They supposedly should already have those skills as social workers. They should be trained in interviewing children. Mediators, for example, are not trained in interviewing children and their focus is usually not on the interests of the child but on getting the parents to agree.

Chair: Claire Perry, do you have a quick question?

Claire Perry: I will save it for later, thank you, Chair.

Q46 Mr Llwyd: I am interested in what you say about breaching the law in not hearing the children's voice. It's also a breach, I believe, of the 1996 Family Law Act because I tabled an amendment to that Act to provide for it, actually. There we are.

Dr Lynne Harne: Yes.

Q47 Mr Llwyd: Having blown my own trumpet for a minute, can I take you back to the issue that I questioned the other witnesses about—that is to say, confidentiality and openness in the family courts. It is clear to me, in any event, that there appear to be flaws in the proposed scheme for media access under the Children, Schools and Families Act. How do you believe we can balance the need for openness and accountability with the need to protect children from what could well be adverse publicity?

Dr Lynne Harne: Supposedly by what we have now—anonymised reporting of cases. We have that in the legal journals and so on to some extent, but often only cases which are interesting legally, if you like. I believe that the research is clearly showing that it's not something that children want and it's not something that is beneficial to them. Therefore, the research clearly shows that that really cannot be followed. I don't know if Julia has any other suggestions about how cases are reported, but obviously there must be anonymisation in all reporting.

Dr Julia Brophy: I think you need to start off by thinking about what we mean by accountability, because the notion that family courts are unaccountable needs to be addressed directly. It's different from giving the public an understanding of how family courts work, how they address difficult decisions and how competing interests are dealt with. There is a lot of evidence from Australia and New Zealand, both of which now have open courts.

The issue of accountability is partly dealt with through the appeal system and, as Lynne said, through information in the law reports. The issue about finding out how very difficult decisions are made will not come, I feel, through the media for a variety of reasons, but foremost they actually don't have the time or the access to be able to do that. I don't think the issue of public education is going to be served by media access and reporting. It has to come by another mechanism.   One of those mechanisms is the pilot scheme for anonymised judgments. That can be improved enormously, I think.

For example, in Australia online judgments enable people to look things up. If you wanted to look at something around domestic violence, there is an index that will allow you to look at cases where that has been dealt with. If you wanted to look up issues around whether fathers were suffering bias or discrimination, they are categorised in that way. So the pilot scheme could be tailored to look at contemporary issues and problems in a way which would help the public directly rather than through the media. The media will only ever be able to talk about one case at a time. What we're looking at is the trend of family courts and how the public can feel confident about the way in which they operate. A one-off reporting of one case, where a journalist talks to a disgruntled litigant, will not help the reputation of the family courts. What you want is fair, accurate, balanced reporting.

Chair: We can all say that.

Q48 Mr Llwyd: I presume, therefore, that if there were extended use of a proper system of producing anonymised judgments, that would probably increase public confidence in the family court system?

Dr Julia Brophy: It is making the information available directly to the public. I think there is one other thing that the family justice system could do. It has been started in Wells Street. That is to have family court open days—to make local courts locally available and locally accountable, in the sense that people can come in, see what is going on, talk to judges, and have mock trials. I think Wells Street had one last year. Over 1,000 people came through that door and it was a very well attended and very well reported day. It happens in Australia. They have gone beyond media access. They take the court into rural communities. Judges go to rural communities and talk to people in different minority ethnic groups, and talk about how the family justice system works. In a sense, courts have to go beyond the media to get the message over and they have to go direct to their public. That way, I think they can establish that things are fair.

Q49 Mr Llwyd: I believe that you are both well qualified to answer this question. Would you agree that the prospect of introducing publicity into the family courts will inhibit children in giving evidence and the way in which they conduct themselves?

Dr Julia Brophy: I think there's no doubt about it. The really serious issue is that the legislation, and indeed the change of rules in April 2009, did not really look at the consequences of that for children. Children start talking to experts—clinicians, social workers, guardians—right at the beginning of the case. It's at that point they will have to be told that the media will have access to the court. There is no option not to tell them. Medical ethics, the GMC ethics, about trust, honesty, and openness when they are dealing with consent with young people are clear. Equally, the advocate for the child and the guardian has to tell the child, and at that point, early on in the case, if the child votes with its feet and says nothing, you are then presented with a case where a judge is going to have to make very serious decisions about the future care of a child without direct information from the child. It's not surprising that children will vote with their feet if they are told. My concern at the moment is that they are probably, for the most part, not being told, and that is a breach of their Article 12 rights.

Q50 Mr Llwyd: Yes; you referred to that earlier. The real truth is that possibly this Act has brought in unintended consequences which we need to be looking at now.

Dr Julia Brophy: It's not only unintended consequences, if I could say so. The consequences were there. The President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and myself, and the President of the Family Division, gave evidence at the Bill Committee stage about those issues. The implications were there and the research was being done, so it's not as though it was a great surprise but it wasn't properly consulted upon. There wasn't proper public consultation within the terms of the Government's own Cabinet rules. I think we do have to start again.

Q51 Chair: Do you recognise—and I give Dr Harne the opportunity to reply—that there was a concern that wholly secret justice is seriously limited?

Dr Lynne Harne: Yes. I think there is a concern about that and the way judges actually reach decisions. Going back to one of the issues that was asked earlier about whether the courts are making the right decisions, you could say that, if part of their role is to safeguard children, in some cases they are making the right decisions and in some cases they're not; they're disregarding issues which they should be regarding. Children themselves are already reluctant to tell Cafcass officers what they really feel because they know it will go in a Cafcass report, which one of their parents will see. If they are saying, "I'm really afraid of my dad and I don't want to see him because I'm really frightened of him", that is already hard for them to do because they know that their dad will see that report. The further additional fear that the case would be heard in open court with reporters taking down what they say is even worse for them.

Chair: I will turn to Siân James to go on to another subject.

Q52 Mrs James: I want to go to the role of Cafcass in private law proceedings. Compulsory safeguarding measures have been in force since 2008. In their evidence Families Need Fathers say they are causing unnecessary delay.

Dr Lynne Harne: I wouldn't say they're causing unnecessary delay at all. I would say that they're absolutely essential. Part of the problem is that some of the safeguarding checks take time to come back. All services now have been cut back, so you can expect even further delays. For example, safeguarding checks with the police take time to come back. From my own research, there are cases of fathers who had sexually abused children and had committed child sex offences, who were coming out of prison. That would have shown up in the safeguarding information but decisions in court were being taken on child contact before those safeguarding checks were received. These were really, really serious cases in which courts were saying, "Right, we're just going to allow interim contact to go ahead". These safeguarding checks are absolutely essential.

  Over and above that is the risk identification. Those checks will only pick up cases where there may have been convictions or enhanced checking may pick up reports of domestic violence. Risk identification will allow an abused parent who has not reported to the police for various reasons, or who may be in a refuge and so on, to say what has happened to her and what the risk to the child is in that. So I would totally disagree with Families Need Fathers on this. My concern is that because of these minimum safety measures this screening, safeguarding and risk identification has become really, really limited. From the inspection follow-up reports there was some level of improvement in Cafcass's safeguarding in 2009, but since the implementation of these minimum measures we don't know what is happening whether these essential safeguarding checks are being done, whether the risk identification is being done and whether that is all going out the window really.

Q53 Mrs James: What about emergency provision; where we have a situation that is an emergency?

Dr Lynne Harne: In private law?

Mrs James: In private law.

Dr Lynne Harne: What do you mean by "an emergency"? What? Where?

Mrs James: Looking at a case possibly that would come to court very suddenly, very quickly. Things would have to happen quickly and decisions made quickly. Obviously, if these processes are going through—

Dr Lynne Harne: Well, they can't. The child must be safeguarded and so there can be no contact, for example, with a parent who may be an abuser. Those situations must be clear in private law proceedings.

Dr Julia Brophy: I think we've got to focus on the child. I think delay is the new mantra. Nobody dare do anything or think about anything that might have an impact on delay. The important thing is the safe outcome for the child and, indeed, the woman involved if there is a woman involved in domestic violence. Any kind of assessment will slow things down, but the important thing is the right decision and the right information to enable the court to make the right decision, and that takes time.

Dr Lynne Harne: With regard to delay, in cases that I have been looking at in my own research, where there had to be a welfare report some of them didn't come to court for a year. These were all cases of abuse. We have to recognise now that it is an abuse of the child to witness domestic violence and to live with a domestically violent parent. That is now the law in the 2002 Act. That child was being protected. Where there had been adequate risk assessment, in cases where it was clear that the child was going to be at risk, then there were more recommendations by Cafcass for no direct contact. That was safeguarding the child.

Q54 Chair: But cumulative delay can bring you to a point where the contact with the father, assuming the father is the person against whom the allegations are originally made, is judged not on its merits but on the fact that by this time the child's interests have moved because there has been no contact with the father over such a long period. So the delay itself may prevent an objective judgment being made, because if it had been made earlier it would be different.

Dr Lynne Harne: No, no, because that assessment should now be being done. In the team that I evaluated, which included a small county, the assessment that is being done and the recommendations that are being made in the welfare report are about whether that parent is a safe parent. In a lot of cases where the parent is domestically violent, they are also abusive towards the children. They are not concerned with protecting the children's interests. They are not safe parents. So the assessment has to be done of the capacity of the parent to parent and to be safe.

Q55 Chair: So you seem to be excluding the possibility that the assessment might conclude that the danger wasn't there?

Dr Lynne Harne: No, no. The assessment is obviously done on evidence from what the children say, from what the abused parent and the abusive parent is saying, and any other evidence that there is available. There is often police evidence. There is often evidence of convictions, but not always. In domestic violence cases women are often very frightened to report it to the police, which is why we can't just go on convictions. We must look at wider evidence such as evidence from GPs, evidence from refuges, injunctions and so on. Of course, where there is domestic abuse, yesterday we had an announcement, unless it's not going to apply to those cases, which will make it even more difficult for parents and their children who are experiencing domestic abuse to get injunctions. It all ties up within the system as well.

Q56 Mrs James: Public law cases are usually very big, they are very time-consuming and there are some serious issues that are being dealt with. Do you think that they take resources away from private law cases?

Dr Julia Brophy: I think one of the problems is that the private law sphere was badly funded in the first place. I think it's not a very fair way to represent what's going on because the resource question underscores both of them. I think, following on from what Lynne said, if you look at the evidence in public law proceedings, there is a high degree of domestic violence and it is actually a high degree of male violence because in the last big study we did we were able to differentiate. The evidence in that study came from evidence on file—not simply what the mother, for example, said but evidence from social workers, from GPs and from the police. Over 50% of cases included aspects of male violence. So there are similarities between the two, and equally important issues.

Q57 Claire Perry: I wanted to ask one final question on this extremely tricky issue that I commend both of you for investigating to such great depth, and then move on to the topic of mediation. I think where we are going with this is that many of us are concerned about a necessary process step being applied at great cost to the taxpayer, and also about Sir Alan's point on significant delays that could have an impact on final decisions, where in fact it doesn't result in anything other than just a delay. Are you aware of any percentage of the 45,000-odd private law cases that Cafcass received that actually resulted in a finding that there was abuse and therefore that there should be some significant change in the court's direction as to where children should be given contact or residence? Is it 5%, 10% or 50%? What would be your assessment of that?

Dr Lynne Harne: I would say it is much higher than that. I would say it's about 60%.

Q58 Claire Perry: And do you have the evidence? So 60% of those 45,000 cases?

Dr Lynne Harne: Yes, and research has been done. That research was originally done by NAPO in 2002. More recent research into where domestic violence has actually been reported has been done by Trinder in 2006. That was looking at in-court dispute resolution: i.e. in-court mediation schemes. In 40% of those cases, domestic violence was reported.

Q59 Claire Perry: What was the sample size for that analysis, if you recall?

Dr Lynne Harne: I am just trying to remember. I think it was about—

Q60 Claire Perry: Perhaps you could let the Committee know.

Dr Lynne Harne: Yes, I could let the Committee know the exact sample.

Q61 Chair: As with our previous witnesses, we would be grateful if, where you have made references like that, you could let us know—perhaps when you get the transcript—what the details of that research were, or what the references are.

Dr Lynne Harne: It depends what you describe as "evidence", you see. This is part of the problem that came up in my research. What the courts were accepting as evidence was evidence of being in a refuge; evidence of domestic violence having been reported to the police on several occasions; evidence from GPs in some cases; and evidence of convictions.

Q62 Claire Perry: All of those would be very valid evidence, but what I am concerned about is hearsay. Certainly based on my constituency postbag, hearsay is a problem in deciding these things. Any hard evidence that is found through those mechanisms is, I think, extremely important and very valid.

Dr Lynne Harne: There is a myth of false allegations of domestic violence, and I really do think it is a myth—

Q63 Chair: So nobody ever makes any false allegations?

Dr Lynne Harne: The evidence is about 3%. The evidence of false allegations of domestic violence is about 3%. It hasn't actually been researched in this country, but in other jurisdictions like Australia and the US it's about 3% of cases that come to court.

Q64 Chris Evans: What do you gauge as domestic violence then? What would you say was a domestic violence situation? Isn't it different levels and people have different perceptions of what violence is domestically?

Dr Lynne Harne: Exactly, and I think this is a real problem. One of the things that has been pushed for before, particularly in 2004 with the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act, for example, was that there should be a legal definition of what domestic violence is and there isn't. There is just a Government-adopted definition.

  In the Australian jurisdiction, they have just had recommendations because they have a system where they follow compulsory mediation for ordinary cases but not for abuse cases. They are just proposing that they need to have a legal definition of domestic violence which includes a pattern of abuse and control. Control is very important—control of the other partner. It's not just physical violence, sexual violence or emotional violence. It's about control of the partner, and they are proposing that that is included in a definition of domestic violence. We do need a definition because domestic violence is often just seen as being hit.

Chair: I want to move on to get your views on mediation.

Q65 Claire Perry: Of course, the issue of violence and abuse is a very thorny one around the problem of compulsory or voluntary mediation, so thank you for your views on that. I think the concern is, rather than applying a draconian requirement for compulsory mediation for exactly the points you've been raising, should an assessment for mediation be compulsory? Is there a sense that this is actually a helpful thing and if there was a compulsory assessment, taking into account these family circumstances, that would be beneficial?

Dr Lynne Harne: I think there should be a safeguarding assessment, yes. I think that is an absolute priority—that there must be a safeguarding assessment.

Q66 Chair: Sorry, I don't think that was the question. I think the question was whether people should be required to go through an assessment to consider undertaking mediation.

Dr Lynne Harne: Right. Prior to that there should be a safeguarding assessment.

Chair: I think we've got that.

Dr Lynne Harne; Then after that, yes, but you are talking about investing a huge amount of resources. My view is that you put the resources into safeguarding, whereas assessing people who are suitable for mediation would involve a huge amount of resources.

Chair: But the court is a huge amount of resources, because if they aren't going to mediation they're going to court.

Q67 Claire Perry: They are diverting from the court system. I think there is evidence that often this is a better way to resolve conflict than putting people through the very expensive court system with unsatisfactory solutions.

Dr Lynne Harne: Yes, except for cases where there is a risk of abuse, in which case they should go through the court system because that is the only means by which people can gain protection.

Q68 Claire Perry: Professor Brophy, do you have a point of view on assessment for mediation?

Dr Julia Brophy: I don't have the research experience in this field that Lynne has, but I think compulsion and mediation sit very uncomfortably together. When you introduce domestic violence then they are, I think, incompatible. I'm very uncomfortable with the use of compulsion. I also have grave doubts about the voice of the child being heard in these circumstances. For Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to be considered in any forum, judicial or administrative, where their care is being considered, you need the voice of the child. What about representation of children in these circumstances? In our research, when we were asking young people whether they thought parents should be allowed to talk to the press, for example, the majority of them said no. They don't want parents to talk to the press until they have consulted with the children. The point about this is that the interests of children and the interests of adults don't coincide. In the normal state of affairs, they don't coincide.

Chair: I think Claire Perry wants to ask you a question.

Q69 Claire Perry: I am sorry for interrupting you. It's a very important point. Does that then imply there should be separate representation for children in mediation?

Dr Julia Brophy: Yes.

Q70 Claire Perry: Who would be the right person in this cast of characters to do that, in your view—the right entity?

Dr Julia Brophy: It would have to be somebody with safeguarding experience and training. My concern is that in the mediation field there is a whole range of activities that might be called mediation, and we don't really know what people's training or qualifications are. I have grave doubts about how many people are actually trained to interview and safeguard children.

Q71 Chair: So, in the case of mediation, you're saying you put in a process which you don't have in a court case where there's no domestic abuse allegation, and you have to have a safeguarding trained person representing the child?

Dr Julia Brophy: If you start with the child and look at the rights of the child and the position of the child, and develop your system of protection from there, then you begin to develop safeguards that we don't currently have. There is research evidence on what are called 9.5 appointments for children at the high end of conflicting divorce proceedings. The research of the National Youth Advocacy Service—which I am sure the Committee has looked at—shows that there are some very serious cases in which it is important that the voice of the child is heard. At the moment we don't give that statutory obligation.

Q72 Mrs Grant: The Australian Family Relationship Centres have been heralded as a great success in keeping many family disputes out of the courts in Australia. There, they do have a system very much of compulsory mediation, with obvious exceptions in cases of domestic violence and where there are imbalances of power. What is your view of those centres? Do you think they are successful? Could they work over here?

Dr Lynne Harne: I've just been looking at the evaluations of the research on this system. What they say, particularly on screening and safeguarding issues, is that the system is not working effectively in some cases and that alternative dispute resolution is being promoted in these Family Relationship Centres for some of those cases. I have only had a chance to analyse it briefly, but the Australian Government is having to introduce further legislation on alternative dispute resolution to increase the safeguarding. These centres themselves report very positive outcomes, but they differ from the lawyers. The lawyers are saying that there are a lot of problems in the system, of families being pushed into alternative dispute resolution and shared parenting relationships, which is problematic for the children as well as the parents.

  You have to recognise that, apart from abuse and safeguarding issues, there are other issues around the welfare of the child such as, whether the child is happy to live in one parent's house for half the week and in the other parent's house for the other half of the week? In a lot of the cases in research that's been done in this country, particularly for older children, they are not. The type of arrangements that are being pushed in the Australian system of equal shared parenting are not necessarily in the best interests of children.

Q73 Mrs Grant: I am aware that they are having to look at that aspect again, but I believe it is about a 25% or 26% reduction in applications to the courts since the legislation came in, combined with the arrival of all of these Family Relationship Centres, which is very interesting indeed. Obviously, as you well know, if people go to court the parties become polarised and that's what we're not wanting. Do you think that they have potential?

Dr Lynne Harne: I think in some aspects they have potential for those parents that are willing to accept mediation, where the children's views are taken on board. In terms of parenting arrangements as well, I think they have potential, and where there are not abuse or safeguarding issues.

Q74 Chair: Dr Brophy, do you want to add anything?

Dr Julia Brophy: I think if you're looking at allocating the lion's share of available resources to adult dispute resolution, with no consideration of the voice of the child, then trying to unpack the figures that you've mentioned in relation to Australia is going to be difficult. Until you find out the views of children about the arrangements, you don't know whether you've made a real saving. A real saving has to include the health, happiness, welfare and safety of children.

Q75 Chair: Of course, in many cases the child's view is that the separation should not be taking place at all?

Dr Julia Brophy: That is one view, but there are of course children who are relieved that their parents have separated, and with separation comes some stability in their lives.

Chair: Thank you very much for giving evidence to us today. We look forward to receiving references for some of the research that you've cited. Thank you.

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