‘Judges should hear children in private’

Judges should speak privately with children in care or contact and residence cases to draw out their true opinions, the head of England’s family court system has suggested.

Sir Mark Potter, president of the High Court’s family division, said it could change the “adversarial nature” of the system and help make decisions to improve the welfare and happiness of more children.

He made the remarks at a Children Law UK conference last week.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, his predecessor as president, said judges regularly saw children in private during the 1970s and 1980s, but this stopped after the Children Act 1989 became law.

“It often really made my mind up when I saw the children,” she added.

Potter also revealed he had asked the courts inspectorate to look at the “grossly inadequate” facilities for children in family court buildings.

The chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service urged multi-agency teams to be piloted in the system.

Anthony Douglas said the teams should be trialled in “progressive” areas and include judges, court service managers, Cafcass practitioners and representatives from the health service, such as expert witnesses.

He admitted it would be “tricky” to preserve the independence of judges but said different parts of the system had become isolated and this needed to change.

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