The Law Society Gazette has reported that family judges are to receive guidance on dealing more appropriately with children and other vulnerable witnesses.

Sir James Munby, head of the Family Division, set up a working group to look into the matter, opining that the family system “lags woefully behind” the criminal justice system in this regard.

Mr Justice Hayden and Ms Justice Russell, heads of the group, pointed out that processes prohibited by statute in the Crown Court are still tolerated in the Family Court and that there is a “pressing need” for such to be addressed.

Proposed has been the adaption and adoption of procedures drawn up by the Advocacy Training Council (ATC) for use in the criminal courts, with the proclamation that “We need to consider the extent to which this excellent work can be adapted for use in the Family Division and the Family Court.”

Included among the recommendations are rules requiring that the court or judge identify whether a party or witness is vulnerable at the outset of the proceedings and make provision for such support, special measures or other assistance they may need to properly and fully participate in the proceedings and to give best evidence.

Judges would also be required to recognise the role and needs of any children involved in the proceedings, giving them the opportunity of communicating with the judge and considering how best to provide for their participation and support.

The draft guidance is due to be published this autumn. The report notes that some judges have already taken steps to help vulnerable witnesses on their own initiative, making use of intermediaries and pre-recorded oral evidence.

The proposed rule changes will go to the Family Procedure Rule Committee in late October, with implementation anticipated by the beginning of 2015.

For the full story, visit The Law Society Gazette.

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