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Family Court Open Days Called For By Judiciary

The Vulnerable Witnesses and Children Working Group have called for annual open days for children in their latest report.

The report, which comes from the judiciary believes that an increase in the amount of access granted to the public would be beneficial to all parties, including children, as it would allow them to see the ins and outs of the justice system.

Open Visits To Understand Judicial System

The report states that “‘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."

By opening family courts to children it would allow them to see how certain decisions are made and the implications of family court. The report comes following a scheme in Wales which it praised. The scheme puts evidence and views given by children at the centre of decision-making, however, the report did admit that more would need to be done in improving evidence is collected from young people.

The report stated that the changes “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."

Further Recommendations

On top of the open day proposals, the report suggested further improvements and amendments to the current court system. The report suggested “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.”

Protect Vulnerable Witnesses

The report from the Vulnerable Witnesses and Children Working Group has been welcomed by many groups including the organisation Resolution. Resolution's Elspeth Thomson, who leads the organisation's work on legal aid, said: "The family courts have for some time-lagged well behind the criminal courts in their provision of safe and inclusive procedures for vulnerable witnesses. This shortfall was exacerbated by the loss of most family legal aid, which has led to, in some cases, victims of domestic violence being cross-examined by their abuser. We welcome the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses group's recognition that the family courts need reform to make them a less hostile environment."

She continued: "We're particularly pleased to see that attention is being given to support for witnesses in domestic abuse cases and the recommendation that the definition of 'vulnerable' is being extended to intimidated witnesses. This is an important first step towards helping some of our society's most vulnerable people access justice in the family courts in a safe and supported manner."

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