The letter of the law

Courts, the legal system, and Judges in particular are often criticised for the ways in which they handle cases.  None more so than in cases which involve children. Cases involving children need to be dealt with expediently, swiftly and most of all sensitively.  Not always traits best used to describe our justice system.   But in a recent decision of Mr Justice Jackson (Re: A (Letter to a Young Person)[20017] EWFC 48), the Judge seems to have bucked a trend.  In this case the Judge chose to deliver his judgment in the form of a letter to a 14-year-old boy who formed the subject matter of this sad case.

Here I look at the details of the case, the impact this had on this case and for future cases involving children.

The case was brought before the Court as a result of an application made by the father to relocate his son (aged 14) to Scandinavia to live with him.  As one may expect the application was vehemently opposed by the mother. The Judge ultimately refused the father’s application. At the time that judgment was due to be given, the child was on a school trip.  Rather than deliver his judgment in the child’s absence, or give a full written judgment for the child (or his legal advisors) to read afterwards, the Judge took the unprecedented decision to deliver his judgment in the form of a letter to the child.  This was given to the child’s solicitor to be given to the child upon his return from his trip.

The Judge quite rightly pointed out in his letter that “This case is about you and your future”.  The Judge took care and attention to explain complex legal terms to the child including that the Court is to treat the child’s welfare as its paramount consideration.

Of relevance in his judgment was the clear weight that the Judge gave to the child’s own views of the situation – especially considering the child’s age.   But the Judge was keen to caveat this by expressing his views about the father’s influence over the child.  There was more than a hint that he felt the child had brought the proceedings to show his father how much he loved him and satisfy his needs rather than the child’s own.  Thus, it’s safe to say that the Judge did not take the child’s views at face value which has to be the right approach. 

Any application involving seeking permission to move a child whether regionally, nationally, or internationally, must be supported by strong evidence such as where the child will live, how they will be financially supported, schooling arrangements and contact arrangements with family members.  The Judge was keen to point out that this evidence was severely lacking from the current application.

Anyone who has seen courtroom dramas on TV or worse still, experienced the court room for themselves, will know that an applicant in a case is usually cross examined by the other parties.  In this case, it is easy to see why the Judge felt that this would be inappropriate – the child would have been cross examined by his parents!   Instead, very prudently, questions from the parents were put by the Judge in a non-confrontational manner.  At the end of the questions the child was asked if he felt that he had conveyed his feelings to the Court and he confirmed that he had.

This case strongly supports the growing feeling that a child’s voice should be heard in proceedings.  Maybe the court system is starting to listen when young people are saying that they want to be listened to in proceedings that involve them.  Surely this is only right?  Interestingly, it is now not uncommon for children to meet Judges privately during proceedings to discuss the case.

So, what are the implications of this case? 

Well, Justice Jackson has made a complicated legal case accessible and understandable for the child directly affected by this case.  Some critics may say that the child should have been protected from some aspects of the case.  There were instances for example where the Judge made negative comments about the child’s father.  I think on that point I’d have to agree with the critics.

However, I do wonder if we will now see more Judge’s following suit with this style of case handling.  It’s not before time.  Frankly, delivering judgments in an accessible, concise manner is not just important for children but for adults as well.

As a lawyer often representing feuding parents, I always encourage them to place their children’s needs first and avoid using their children as a pawn in their divorce.  Sometimes speaking to children to find out their views is the best approach. It’s not always easy to do and sadly sometimes applications to court are necessary.  If you do find yourself in this situation, I always strive to handle these applications in a sensitive manner to achieve the best outcome for you and your children.

If you are having any family difficulties please do contact us on 01905 349217 (Worcester office) / 01902  302969 (Wolverhampton office) or e-mail  robsherrey@sherreysolicitors.com        

 

 

 

 

Courts, the legal system, and Judges in particular are often criticised for the ways in which they handle cases.  None more so than in cases which involve children. Cases involving children need to be dealt with expediently, swiftly and most of all sensitively.  Not always traits best used to describe our justice system.   But in a recent decision of Mr Justice Jackson (Re: A (Letter to a Young Person)[20017] EWFC 48), the Judge seems to have bucked a trend.  In this case the Judge chose to deliver his judgment in the form of a letter to a 14-year-old boy who formed the subject matter of this sad case.

Here I look at the details of the case, the impact this had on this case and for future cases involving children.

The case was brought before the Court as a result of an application made by the father to relocate his son (aged 14) to Scandinavia to live with him.  As one may expect the application was vehemently opposed by the mother. The Judge ultimately refused the father’s application. At the time that judgment was due to be given, the child was on a school trip.  Rather than deliver his judgment in the child’s absence, or give a full written judgment for the child (or his legal advisors) to read afterwards, the Judge took the unprecedented decision to deliver his judgment in the form of a letter to the child.  This was given to the child’s solicitor to be given to the child upon his return from his trip.

The Judge quite rightly pointed out in his letter that “This case is about you and your future”.  The Judge took care and attention to explain complex legal terms to the child including that the Court is to treat the child’s welfare as its paramount consideration.

Of relevance in his judgment was the clear weight that the Judge gave to the child’s own views of the situation – especially considering the child’s age.   But the Judge was keen to caveat this by expressing his views about the father’s influence over the child.  There was more than a hint that he felt the child had brought the proceedings to show his father how much he loved him and satisfy his needs rather than the child’s own.  Thus, it’s safe to say that the Judge did not take the child’s views at face value which has to be the right approach.

Any application involving seeking permission to move a child whether regionally, nationally, or internationally, must be supported by strong evidence such as where the child will live, how they will be financially supported, schooling arrangements and contact arrangements with family members.  The Judge was keen to point out that this evidence was severely lacking from the current application.

Anyone who has seen courtroom dramas on TV or worse still, experienced the court room for themselves, will know that an applicant in a case is usually cross examined by the other parties.  In this case, it is easy to see why the Judge felt that this would be inappropriate – the child would have been cross examined by his parents!   Instead, very prudently, questions from the parents were put by the Judge in a non-confrontational manner.  At the end of the questions the child was asked if he felt that he had conveyed his feelings to the Court and he confirmed that he had.

This case strongly supports the growing feeling that a child’s voice should be heard in proceedings.  Maybe the court system is starting to listen when young people are saying that they want to be listened to in proceedings that involve them.  Surely this is only right?  Interestingly, it is now not uncommon for children to meet Judges privately during proceedings to discuss the case.

So, what are the implications of this case?

Well, Justice Jackson has made a complicated legal case accessible and understandable for the child directly affected by this case.  Some critics may say that the child should have been protected from some aspects of the case.  There were instances for example where the Judge made negative comments about the child’s father.  I think on that point I’d have to agree with the critics.

However, I do wonder if we will now see more Judge’s following suit with this style of case handling.  It’s not before time.  Frankly, delivering judgments in an accessible, concise manner is not just important for children but for adults as well.

As a lawyer often representing feuding parents, I always encourage them to place their children’s needs first and avoid using their children as a pawn in their divorce.  Sometimes speaking to children to find out their views is the best approach. It’s not always easy to do and sadly sometimes applications to court are necessary.  If you do find yourself in this situation, I always strive to handle these applications in a sensitive manner to achieve the best outcome for you and your children.

If you are having any family difficulties please do contact us on 01905 349217 (Worcester office) / 01902  302969 (Wolverhampton office) or e-mail  robsherrey@sherreysolicitors.com