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A move towards a more transparent, child-focused approach to Judgments? (12 October 2017)

Date: 12/10/2017
Duncan Lewis, Legal News Solicitors, A move towards a more transparent, child-focused approach to Judgments?

This case concerns a father's application for his 14-year old son to move with him to live in Scandinavia. The parents had been separated for many years and the child had always lived with his mother and step-father. The father’s application was opposed by the mother and also by the child's guardian, however the child wanted to move to live with his Father in Scandinavia. The boy was fully involved in the proceedings. He attended court and gave oral evidence; answering questions from the Judge which had been put by both his parents.

Mr Justice Jackson ordered that the child remain in his mother's care until he finished his education, at which time he could of course decide to move the Scandinavia if he wished. Mr Justice Jackson also went further, urging the father to review his plans and consider whether moving to Scandinavia was in his son's best interest at all, whether his son lived with him or not.

When confirming his decision, Mr Justice Jackson acknowledged he was going against the express wishes of a child who had a clear understanding and views however, stated that, having carried out what was a difficult balancing exercise, he did not believe the move was in his best interests. He referred particularly to the fact that the father had argued strongly, however had been unable to provide some key details regarding his plans in Scandinavia; he had not yet found work, nor somewhere to live. As well as clearly being a case of torn parental loyalties, Mr Justice Jackson considered the child was, albeit subconsciously, influenced by his father and what he wanted and as such, did not consider the child’s expressed wish to live to Scandinavia could or should be taken at face value.

Whilst not necessarily a stand-out case on its facts; judges often go against a child’s wishes. What makes this case interesting however, is the way Mr Justice Jackson handed down his judgment; as a letter to the child, rather than within a ‘standard’ written or oral judgment, which are often a long, complex narrative of the Judge's analysis of the evidence and their reasons for reaching their decision. They can often be difficult to understand, particularly for those who are unrepresented and certainly for the children these concern.

Mr Justice Jackson has previously taken steps to simplify his judgments, making them more straightforward and accessible – is this perhaps just a further step in this direction?

He stated that, he considered this was a case where it was important for him to clearly and concisely set out the reasons for his decision. This seems entirely appropriate. These cases relate to decisions that are life-altering for the child concerned. It is imperative that these children, particularly where that child is older, has expressed clear views and has been involved in the proceedings, feel they have been heard, even if not agreed with. For the final decision to be accessible to the child it so centrally involves is so important for that child, both at the time but also when they are looking back, perhaps then with a greater sense of perspective and independence, why that decision was made on their behalf.

A ground breaking decision and one I think and hope may pave the way for this more open dialogue and explanation directly to those the decision concerns.

Author, Sophie Burchett, is a Family and Childcare solicitor based at Duncan Lewis’ Shepherd’s Bush office. She has experience in public and private child law matters, specialising in representing children, their parents/ guardians and extended family members, as well as vulnerable clients with learning difficulties or mental illness. She deals in a range of matters relating to care proceedings, from domestic violence cases to cases involving non-accidental injury and induced illness.

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