Last week, Mr Justice Jackson – who in September last year was praised for his efforts in delivering an age-appropriate judgment containing an emoji (the first of its kind!) – took the innovative step of handing down his judgement in the form of a letter to the child subject of the proceedings.
The case concerned a 14 year old boy, Sam, who, having been deemed competent by his solicitor applied, to leave to relocate from the UK with his father who was planning to emigrate to Scandinavia. After case management and directions Sam’s father was appropriately listed as the Applicant. Throughout the proceedings the father’s conduct was somewhat hostile and his approach to relocation often varied. In the absence of any detailed relocation plans submitted by Sam’s father Jackson J dismissed the application and deemed Sam’s wish to live with his father as a display of affection rather than an informed decision.
The decision to publish the letter judgment shows a gradual move in the involvement of children in cases where the child has given evidence. Here Sam has taken a central role not only in the welfare analysis but also in the delivery of the outcome of the proceedings. In navigating difficult and sensitive issues Jackson J’s letter to Sam journeys the difficult task a Judge must undertake in family cases. Expressed in simplicity, the importance of Sam’s welfare is reinforced throughout the letter and clear holistic evaluations of the options available to Sam are considered. Whilst some may regard parts of the letter to be somewhat overly critical of the father in terms of his suggested influence over, and manipulation of, Sam there is an apparent recognition of Sam’s involvement throughout. One hopes that when Sam reads this letter he feels that his voice has been listed to despite Jackson J’s contrary decision.
A full transcript of the judgment can be found here: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/48.html