is a resource for practitioners which helps to provide an explanation about the court process for children and young people and seeks to provide clarity on what their thoughts are about the proceedings in which they are involved. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child prioritises the voice of the child,
“States parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”
The resources have been designed in order to reflect a children’s rights approach to working with children and young people in the Family Courts.
“The right of the child to participate in the decision making and to be consulted is accepted as a central tenet of welfare and in this model the child’s wishes and feelings assume a central importance in an upward thrust of participation which informs and underpins interpretations of the child’s best interest.” (Timms 1995)
Consultation between NIGALA and VOYPIC 2014
Drivers in the development of About Court include recommendations from the consultation process conducted by NIGALA and VOYPIC with young people 2014. The recommendations from this consultation process included that Guardians should;
Help children and young people develop an understanding of the court process in an age appropriate manner;
Promote an understanding of the principle of best interests, in that a Guardian may not recommend what the child/young person wants;
Promote understanding of the independence of the role of the Guardian;
Implement age appropriate records detailing what has happened during the meetings between the child/young person and the Guardian, (Consultation Process NIGALA VOYPIC 2014).
Civil and Family Justice Review
The Civil and Family Justice Review outlines a wide ranging review of Civil and Family Justice in Northern Ireland including a focus on how the Family Courts can achieve improved outcomes for children and young people. The Terms of Reference for the Review included,
“Achieving better outcomes for Court users particularly children and young people”.
In his chapter on the Voice of the Child Lord Justice Gillen has written that hearing the voices of children and young people within the Court setting is a developing process. The significance and meaning of the voice of children and young people is highlighted by Lord Justice Gillen who cites the Chief Justice of the Republic of Ireland, quoting Professor Dumbledore from Harry Potter as follows;
“A child’s voice, however honest and true, is meaningless to those who have forgotten how to listen”.
The recommendations of the Civil and Family Justice Review include proposals for developing the voice of children and young people in the Family Courts.
The aim of “About Court” is to provide a resource for Guardians to enable the child/young person to be given information and to be kept up to date about their Court Proceedings. The resource aims to promote the child/young person’s participation in the proceedings at a level with which they are comfortable, and to provide opportunity and choice as to how their views and voices are heard, whether this is through their Guardian, by attending Court and meeting with the Judge or writing to the Judge.
“Young people place more value on the process of taking part and immediate personal benefits rather than just outcomes”. (Percy Smith B 2011)
At the end of the proceedings the child /young person is given the opportunity to contact other people they may like to talk about their court case including their solicitor and VOYPIC.
The two different resources were prepared for use with both with children and with young people (access the documents below)