The Department for Constitutional Affairs has decided against giving all children in contact and residence cases the right to separate legal representation.
In proposals published today for consultation, the DCA said children should only be separately represented by a court guardian in private law cases “where there is a legal need to do so” – for example, where a child has evidence that cannot be given by another party.
Section 122 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which came into force at the start of the year, was meant to bring in separation representation for children in all private law proceedings, expanding on family court rule 9.5, which allows it in the most complex cases.
But the DCA delayed implementation while it considered more evidence on its likely impact.
Research on rule 9.5 cases, by Cardiff University, published in March, found most parents and children favoured separate representation.
However, it also said extending the measure could add “delays and costs” to proceedings.
The DCA said today that it was “not convinced” that separate representation in private law would be in the best interests of children in all cases, adding that it could cause “undue stress” to children who did not want to participate.
The DCA has also launched a consultation on other proposals designed to make family court proceedings more child friendly, as part of its plans to improve transparency in the family courts
It has opened an online discussion forum seeking children’s views on:
- how judges should seek the views of children involved in care proceedings or parental separation cases
- and giving full information to children once they reach adulthood about judgments in cases where decisions have been made about them.
Harriet Harman, the constitutional affairs minister, said: “It is vital that children know what is going on and are told what has been decided and why.”
The forum, which will run until 9 October, adds to one aimed at adults that has been open since 11 July.