Mr Justice Keehan has taken the unusual step, not just of creating a short extra judgment for, but also writing that judgment directly to, the 15 year old young person, whose future he had to decide (and his father).
Northamptonshire Council sought a care order for a 15 year old with a plan (based on his own wishes) to stay in foster care until after his A levels, before going to live with his father in Australia. His younger sister and older brother who had different fathers, were moving to live in New Zealand with a maternal relative, which is what they wanted. The mother they had been living with was expecting a custodial sentence for serious drug importation charges.
Mr Justice Keehan said there was no legal basis for the council to remain involved with the young man, given that he had a competent, caring father willing to make decisions for him and offer him a home, albeit in Australia. It was a matter for him and his father (not the State) to decide the right time for him to move, bearing in mind his education, his ties to the UK, his complex relationship with his mother and the inappropriate pressure the Judge thought he was sometimes under to support her emotionally as she awaited sentence.
It’s a very short judgment, alongside the main one here. It’s not a model of transparency in respect of language used, nor particularly reassuring that the young person felt truly able to accept the decision, rather than just say ‘yes’ he understood. But it’s exceptional in being so tailored to the young person, that it addresses him throughout as ‘you’ not ‘him’ with ‘your’ father not ‘his’ father.
Mr Justice Keehan twice met with the young person at his request before publishing the short judgment, not just to explain his decision and give him a record of this, but also, apparently, to remind his father of the need to take very careful account of his son’s complex wishes, if they were to reach agreement on when he would travel to Australia.
Mr Justice Jackson recently created something of a twitter storm with a Judgment written for those most affected by it – the child (once older) and his parents with learning disabilities. (That carefully crafted judgment, which rightly attracted praise from across the Family Justice sector is discussed at the Transparency Project here).
Some judges (HHJ Lynch is one) already routinely direct that their judgments go to children’s new permanent carers for vital later life work.
Perhaps we are seeing a move towards using family court judgments to better meet the information needs of the children and families most affected by their decisions.