Giving children a voice in the legal system
‘Putting children first’ was front of mind when the National Child Protection Week was launched in 1990. This year National Child Protection (6 to 12 September) asks us look at how we prioritise children - in their lives and our community.
Tasmania Legal Aid’s Strategic Plan 2020-23 resonates with the theme ‘putting children first’. The Plan prioritises children, acknowledging that putting children first means prioritising their safety and wellbeing.
They are some of the most vulnerable members of our society, but for too long and too often children have been left without a voice in our legal system.
Tasmania Legal Aid (TLA) has identified children, family violence, wellbeing and resilience as the primary areas we need to focus on over the next three years.
Children are at the heart of Family Law and Child Safety legal practice and TLA Director Vincenzo Caltabiano says their voices must be heard.
“Sadly, family violence is a common feature when these matters come before the courts.
“In light of this it is understandable that several actions in our Strategic Plan 2020-23 are directed at improving the services we deliver in these areas. This includes ensuring that we work from a trauma informed practice and increasing community legal education and information in child safety issues.
Mr Caltabiano said TLA is committed to working with legal profession colleagues, service providers and the community in a shared effort to amplify the voices of those who have historically been seen and not heard.
TLA will bring these groups together to create Independent Children’s Lawyers (ICL) Practice Standards, craft guidelines and develop training for legal practitioners in family law and child safety. The aim is to better engage with children and improve the legal system response to family violence.
“The insights and contributions of the different stakeholders will be important to getting this right,” he said.
The purpose of an ICL is to prioritise the child in the Family Court. Their role is to speak up for children when they have struggled to be heard above the dispute between mum and dad.
TLA’s Family Law In-House Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald said it was important the legal profession continued to evolve and help children’s voices be heard.
“We provide training, development and support for this crucial work for the benefit of the children and the lawyers who support them” he said.
“The surest measure of a just legal system is how it treats the most vulnerable amongst us.
“And there is no better example than a child who is the subject of a legal process.
“The competency and quality of the representation of children is the litmus test for society.”
Mr Fitzgerald said the legal profession has taken notice of the important role ICLs and Separate Representatives play in the courts.
“They are so important,” he said.
“That’s why the role engages and attracts experienced and dedicated lawyers.”