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Judges meeting with children

Children portrait 146x219A senior judge has given an update on the issues created by judges meeting children and the correct approach to be taken. Michelle Brown reports.

Most practitioners will be aware of the provisions of The Guidelines for Judges Meeting Children (2010) 2FLR 1872. Key provisions include:

(a) any meeting must accord with the welfare interests of the children;

(b) all parties should have an opportunity to make representations upon the issue;

(c) appropriate practical arrangements need to be made; and

(d) the purpose of the meeting is for the children to gain an understanding of what is going on and to be reassured that the judge has understood him/her and NOT for the purpose of gathering evidence.

In London Borough of Brent v D and Ors (Compliance with Guidelines on Judges Meeting Children) [2017] EWHC 2452 (Fam), MacDonald J observed that the Guidelines do not say WHEN the issue should be raised. He advises that the issue should be raised at the IRH so that:

(a) all parties have an opportunity to make representations;

(b) appropriate arrangements can be made; and

(c) the purpose and expectations of the meeting can be clarified and determined in advance.

If the child expresses a wish after the IRH, the steps required by the Guidelines should be commenced immediately so that appropriate arrangements can be made in a timely fashion.

MacDonald J revisited the issue in B v P (Children's Objections) [2017] EWHC 3577 (Fam)-1. This was an abduction case where F had applied for the two children, aged 11 and 12 years, to be returned to Hungary where M conceded that their removal had been wrongful. M raised two defences (harm and the children’s objections). The children, both of whom were on the autistic spectrum, expressed strong wishes NOT to return to Hungary and wished to meet the Judge. The Judge met with the children prior to the final hearing. The minute of the meeting is included in the judgement where the children:

(a) begged the judge not to send them back to Hungary; and

(b) stated very clearly that they are frightened of F.

MacDonald J observed that the note does not fully convey the level of upset the children displayed during the course of the meeting. The Judge then heard representations from M and F and ordered a psychological assessment of the children due to:

(a) the presentation of the child at the meeting;

(b) the diagnosis of autism; and

(c) M’s defences of harm and children’s objections.

He stated that this case demonstrates the difficulty for judges seeing children, particularly in the context of the injunction against using such meetings as a gathering evidence exercise, because the Judge:

(a) begins to form an impression of the child;

(b) sees how the presentation of the child compares with that contended for by the parties; and

(c) hears statements from the child that may be relevant to the issues the court is tasked with deciding.

This is a predictable and unavoidable consequence of such a meeting.

MacDonald J posed the question “How is the judge to treat such information?” In short:

(a) it would be entirely artificial and potentially unjust to simply banish these matters from his mind without more;

(b) BUT the guidelines state that the judge may not rely on that information as evidence; and

(c) that may be far easier to articulate in theory than to apply in practice.

Michelle Brown is a barrister at St Ives Chambers. She can be contacted on 0121 236 0863 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

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