I am grateful to the member for raising that issue. He will recall that I met him and his constituents so that I could hear from them at first hand about the matter. He highlights the important role that grandparents play in children’s lives. For that reason, in our “Family Justice Modernisation Strategy” I committed to further promotion of the charter for grandchildren.
I have considered the issue very carefully, but I am of the view that an automatic right of contact is not appropriate for a number of key reasons. An automatic right for children to have contact with grandparents would have substantially the same implications as an automatic right for grandparents to have contact with their grandchildren. Such an automatic right would cut across the general provisions of the bill, in which the most important thing is the interests of the child. For that reason, I do not think that it is appropriate to include that provision in the bill. However, one of the factors in the checklist that is included in the bill is that the court must take into account the relationships that are important to the child, and it is envisaged that the relationship with grandparents will be one of those. I hope that the member is reassured by that.
The main aims of the bill are to ensure that the interests of children are at the very heart of family justice modernisation and to ensure that the views of the child are heard. In particular, the bill’s provisions represent a step forward in ensuring that the child’s best interests are at the centre of all contact and residence cases, in ensuring that the views of the child are heard, in further protecting victims of domestic abuse and their children in family court proceedings, in ensuring further compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in ensuring that relationships between brothers and sisters are promoted for children in care.