Courts: Children

Justice written question – answered on 16th July 2008.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham PPS (Mr Mike O'Brien, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what steps the Government has taken to minimise any harmful effects on children arising from their participation in court proceedings.

Photo of Bridget Prentice Bridget Prentice Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Justice

In the criminal courts a series of measures are in place aimed at minimising the distress of court proceedings on young defendants as follows:

(i) A Practice Direction from the Lord Chief Justice provides among other things for familiarisation with the courtroom prior to the hearing, frequent breaks during the process, the ability of a very young defendant to sit with family members and the court to ensure an understanding by the young defendant of what is happening and what is being said throughout the process.

(ii) There is also provision within the criminal law to protect the anonymity of the young defendant.

(iii) There are also restrictions on public attendance at the youth court.

Children can apply for special measures to assist them in giving their best evidence in court. This includes giving evidence outside the courtroom through a televised link or screens around the witness box to shield the witness from the defendant.

Children involved in family proceedings do not normally attend court. Children who are subject to an application for care or supervision proceedings by social services (public law) are entitled to separate representation by a Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS) Children's Guardian and a solicitor, and are made a party to proceedings. Children's Guardians are there to help achieve the best possible outcomes for the child they represent. The Government have consulted on the representation of children in private law proceedings, when families disagree about who children should live or spend time with. However, research has shown that bringing a child into proceedings could be stressful and put too much responsibility on the child. Therefore, party status and separate representation will only be ordered in private law cases which involve an issue of significant difficulty and consequently will occur only in a minority of cases.

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