Family courts should have annual open days for children, a report from the judiciary recommends.
The Vulnerable Witnesses and Children Working Group, set up by Family Division president Sir James Munby, says there should be an increase in public access to the family courts so that members of the public, including children and young people, can see what is happening.
The report says: ‘Visits by groups of school children such as those arranged by the Inns to the High Court and by judges in Crown court have proved to be very effective; it has the dual purpose of demystifying the Family Court and is educative.’
The working group identifies a need for the evidence of children and young people to be put before the family courts as they would in criminal proceedings.
Wales is cited as an example of where direct work is carried out with children at the outset of any potential proceedings, and an example of practices ‘which put the children’s evidence and views at the centre of decision-making’.
A pilot scheme to include pre-recording of cross-examination and re-examination in Leeds, Kingston and Liverpool ‘should form the basis for future practice in early evidence-gathering of the evidence of the subject children themselves, as there is no reason why similar techniques could not be employed for use in family proceedings’.
Other recommendations include:
- A new practice direction for children seeing judges in the Family Court and Family Division, including provisions setting out in clear terms the status of communication between judge and child;
- The term ‘vulnerable and intimidated witness’ should remain in use and be extended to cover the parties as well as the witnesses.
The working group said it would need to carry out further work on modernising the way in which the evidence of children and young people was gathered and put before the family courts.
It said: ‘This will ultimately require a substantial change in the prevailing culture in respect of the evidence of children on the part of judges, social services, Cafcass and others who work with children in the family courts.’