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Family courts need to encourage more evidence given by Children, says President of the Family Division

Published: 24th June 2016

Chief Judge and President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir James Munby, has called on the family courts to do more to encourage children giving evidence in court and has claimed that while there has been a 'sea-change' in attitudes to children giving evidence, more still needs to be done.

Sir James Munby addressed his concerns in a recent appeal case that revolved around a mother unlawfully removing three children from Hungary to England without the consent of their father.

The original case verdict was that the children should return to Hungary as they had moved to England unlawfully, however during the appeal, the eldest child had expressed her disappointment at not having her concerns taken into consideration and that she didn't have the chance to make her opinion known. It was also noted that the views of her younger siblings had also been ignored.

The eldest child's representatives said that she was denied the right to have her say on an outcome that would shape her future, with the Deputy Judge from the original judgement failing to meet with her to understand her views.

The appeal judge said that he hoped the eldest child ‘will feel that she has had her full say in the process’, adding that she should be a ‘full participating party with representation’.

The eldest child said that she did not wish to return to Hungary as she was happy with her life in England, having gone from being a ‘quiet, timid girl’ in Hungary to a ‘happy girl’ at her school in England. Her representatives said that these factors should have been taken into consideration in the original decision to send her and her siblings back to Hungary.

Despite this, the appeal proved to be unsuccessful as Sir James Munby saw ‘no error in fact’ in the initial judgement and he was satisfied that the judge from the original judgement had considered all relevant factors in his decision.

When giving his final decision, Sir James Munby recalled a previous case from 2010 when the Supreme Court said there was no longer a presumption against children giving evidence in the family courts.

Speaking on the issue of children giving evidence, he said: ‘It is apparent that in relation to all these matters there has been a sea-change in attitudes over the last decade and more, even if on occasion practitioners and the courts have been and still are too slow to recognise the need for change or to acknowledge the pace of change’.

‘It is plain that the further changes in our approach to these matters which are now widely acknowledged require to be implemented, and sooner rather than later. Moreover, and I wish to emphasise this, the process of change continues apace’.

Sir James Munby concluded by noting that the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group had recently put forward recommendations on the topic of children giving evidence in the family courts, which the Family Procedure Rules Committee were currently considering.

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