Children regularly give evidence in criminal proceedings but in the family courts this has always been a rare occurrence. However, in March 2010 the law changed to remove the presumption against children giving evidence in front of the family courts.
Historically a child’s voice would be heard in family proceedings by way of a Children’s Guardian. However since 2010 the court has been more willing to hear from children personally and to meet the children involved. This approach can sometimes help to ensure that children understand what is going on within proceedings and the reasons behind the decisions the court may make, which could significantly affect their life.
In 2011 the Supreme Court gave guidance on children giving evidence: The court’s primary objective should be to achieve a fair trial. The issue of whether or not a child should give evidence is determined by carrying out a balancing exercise between the possible advantages that the child will bring to determination of truth, balanced against the possible risk of harm to the child from giving evidence. The court must have regard to numerous factors when carrying out this balancing exercise and it is very unlikely that an unwilling child would be called to give evidence.
On the rare occasions when a child does give evidence in family proceedings, the court and all professionals involved do everything in their power to ensure that the child is put at ease. To this end for example, it is more than likely that the child would give evidence outside the court room, sometimes even outside the court building.