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Beyoncé shakes up evidence and family law syllabuses

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Lady Hale wants children to have a greater voice in court

beyonce-hale

The Beyoncé of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, has called for a shake-up in the rules of the courtroom — which could see big changes in evidence and family law syllabuses.

Speaking at a recent conference, the deputy president of the Supreme Court told an audience of family lawyers that there is a growing need for children’s evidence to be heard in court, beyond the arena of the criminal justice system.

Child witnesses play a valuable role in criminal justice — in 2012, there were 33,000 child witnesses in criminal cases.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to draw a distinction between this figure and the number of child witnesses in the family justice system, because of a lack of available data. But looking back at her time in the Family Division, Hale notes that the courts have been very reluctant to consider the evidence of children.

There are a number of, what Hale terms, “respectable reasons” for being cautious about having children in the courtroom, or having judges see children in private. There’s a fear that judges cannot effectively communicate with children; that it is difficult to preserve the rules of natural justice while enabling children to speak freely; and that listening to lawyers debate your future is not an experience that any child should have.

But Hale began her pro-reform speech, aptly titled ‘Are we nearly there yet?’, with a number of positive reasons for giving children a voice in the family courtroom. To name but a few: children want to communicate; children have a right to know what’s going on; and children need to be able to tell people about present or likely harm they may be suffering.

As a state school-educated female — a rare sight in the top ranks of the judiciary — Hale offers a viewpoint that tends to be more liberal and progressive than some of her fellow justices. And it’s clear that the value of children’s rights are changing and improving — just look at the Human Rights Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Moving away from the rigidity of the rules of evidence, she calls for criminal law-like special measures to be introduced in the family justice system, stating:

There is a lot to be said for the family court having the power to adopt the so-called ‘special measures’ when it thinks appropriate. We are not just talking about children here but also about the many parents involved in family, especially care, proceedings who are almost as vulnerable as their children. We need special measures for both.

The normalisation of children in the courtroom “would certainly be an improvement” — but Hale stresses that the purpose of this normalisation needs to be clear. It is unhelpful if children want to go to court for one reason (for example, to tell the judge his or her views), but the judge is allowing him or her into the courtroom for another reason (for example, to explain the importance of court proceedings to the child).

Hale ends her speech with a reluctant nod to law reform:

I am glad to see that the subject is now firmly on the agenda but less than clear about exactly where we are heading and whether it is in the right direction.

With nine places on the Supreme Court bench soon to be up for grabs, and constant pro-diversity pronouncements echoing from the judiciary, it won’t be too long before the court has more and more progressive view-holders like Hale.

13 Comments

Not Amused

It’s always helpful to have people who haven’t seen a trial in decades pontificating about evidence and procedure.

(10)(3)

shadowy figure

she’s… a judge
on the supreme court
?

(5)(7)

Shadowy retard

Perhaps you’re not clear on the distinction between an appeal and a trial…

(11)(0)

shadowy figure

I am clear, thanks for the condescension – I’m sure that in your case, this attitude of superiority is utterly justified, and you’re not just another identikit hopeless case chasing a commercial law training contract that will never materialise.

I was pretty surprised that someone would think a judge on the supreme court was unqualified to comment about procedure in criminal trials.

(1)(5)

Sandman

I know that Legal Cheek is not a high brow legal journal, but it’s pretty disrespectful to a Supreme Court judge to refer to her with a nickname used by a handful of immature law students.

(16)(5)

Not Amused

Brenda Hale belongs to a generation that fought against the evils of innate deference. So firstly, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. But secondly, it’s more important to our society that people ask questions and hold people to account than that they bow and scrape to man made illusions of hierarchy.

(5)(5)

Anonymous

Far more objectionable is the fact that its an in-joke which wasn’t funny the first time.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

Stunning photo.

And not the Beyonce side.

(2)(2)

Charlotte Proudcock

I object to the sexualisation of this Judge.

Anyhow, Brenda isn’t the most famous female lawyer.

I AM and don’t you forget it.

(4)(1)

Anonymous

This would open the doors to obstructive mothers telling their children to say they don’t want to see daddy.

This already happens an awful lot, and is mostly just a tactic by the mother to deny access. To make children giving evidence the norm would open the floodgates to this sort of behaviour.

(4)(3)

Anonymous

It’s true, the default position should be the children are deeply unreliable and impressionable witnesses.

(2)(0)

hollyhue

What a great idea!!!! Use Beyonces name for more clicks!!!!!

(2)(0)

Anonymous

If Lady Hale is the Beyonce of the Supreme Court, Alex Aldridge is by analogy a skidmark on the underpants of the legal world.

(4)(0)

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