Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 requires that the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration in all decisions made about them. In their consideration, the court must have regard to the factors set out at 1(3) of the Children Act 1989, referred to as the ‘welfare checklist’. These include the ascertainable wishes and feeling of the child, commensurate with their age and level of understanding, and any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
In addition, for every public law case, the child is appointed a CAFCASS Guardian who specifically represent the interests and wishes of the child involved. In complex private law cases, CAFCASS undertakes direct work with the child when directed to do so by the court, for cases that continue after the first hearing. This includes speaking with children to ascertain their wishes and feelings to produce a Section 7 welfare report into the child’s welfare needs.
The Domestic Abuse Bill rightly recognises children as victims of domestic abuse and it is important that their voices are heard in family court proceedings.
In response to the Ministry of Justice’s Harm Panel report, the Government committed to exploring how to enhance the voice of the child in private law proceedings to ensure children’s wishes and views are central to proceedings concerning them. This will be done through a series of private law reform pilots, including the Integrated Domestic Abuse Court, and we intend to launch these pilots later this year.