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Have your say on the Children and Families Bill

By OnePlusOne, 20 February 2013 Legal

The Children and Families Bill will have its second reading on 25th February 2013 – the bill contains proposals to change the law in several areas affecting children and parents but of particular interest will be proposals that affect arrangements for children following parental separation.

These proposals are controversial and have sparked much debate between academics and legal experts alike, they involve inserting a new clause into the Children’s Act 1989 which states

“…to presume that a child’s welfare will be furthered by the involvement of each of the child’s parents in his or her life, unless it can be shown that such involvement would not in fact further the child’s welfare.”

Over the past two years OnePlusOne have been involved in a number of projects aimed at raising awareness of both the research evidence and complexities that exist around this often divisive Government proposal.

The evidence is clear when a couple separates, provided it is safe, children are more likely to do well if they have the involvement, care and nurture of both parents. However as an organisation we do not believe that it is in the best interests of children for this to be included in legislation.

Courts already have to give paramount consideration to the welfare of the child when they are making a decision regarding care arrangements. This legal principle ensures that decision-making focuses on the needs and interests of each ‘individual’ child, rather than on the expectations of parents.  It also stops the courts from standardising decision-making, as it requires them to focus on each individual child’s circumstances and needs.

To bring in a legislative change that ‘presumes’ the involvement of both parents is in the best interests of the child could undermine this fundamental principle. In particular, it is worth noting that the Family Justice Review and the Justice Select Committee explicitly recommended against any presumption in recognition of evidence from Australia and other jurisdictions. These proposals could well have unintended consequences for the UK as seen in the Australian system.  As an organisation we feel they currently risk placing the rights of parents against those of their children, undermining the principle that the individual child’s best interests should be the paramount consideration in court decisions.

The government have launched a new Public Reading initiative to give members of the public the opportunity to provide their views on Bills before they are made into law. This is the first Public Reading to be run by the House of Commons and is a pilot of the process. Comments on the Bill will be made available to the Committee of MPs responsible for examining the Bill in detail so that they can take them into account when deciding whether to make changes to the Bill.

A summary of comments left on the web forum will be made available to MPs on the Committee so that they can take them into account when considering the Bill.

You can find out more about the public reading and leave your comments on the Parliament website at http://www.parliament.uk/public-reading/children-and-families-bill

The public reading will close on 26th February to allow time for comments to be collated and made available to MPs on the Bill Committee as it begins its work.

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