Children should be seen and not heard.

Aristophanes, The Clouds, I. 963, (423BC)[1]

The Australian Law Reform Commission and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission have carried out a comprehensive inquiry into children and the legal process.

A list of the Inquiry’s recommendations is set out in Appendix D.

Australia’s children are the nation’s future. Australia’s legal processes have consistently failed to recognise this fact by ignoring, marginalising and mistreating the children who turn to them for assistance. Much must be done to provide for children’s access to and appopriate participation in the legal processes that affect them. Changes are needed across all levels of government and across all jurisdictions. The Commonwealth should take on a leadership and co-ordination role in this regard. The recommendations in this report are designed to give full effect to the right of children to be both seen and heard in the legal process. They include

  • a summit on children to be attended by all heads of Australian Governments
  • a taskforce on children and the legal process
  • an Office for Children to be located in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • national standards in the areas of school discipline, care and protection, investigative interviewing of children and juvenile justice
  • child-focused service delivery charters, research to improve agency practice in regard to children and collection and publication of statistics on children’s participation in various legal processes.
  • restructuring current jurisdictional arrangements for dealing with children’s issues, and in particular an extended cross-vesting scheme for family law and care and protection matters
  • transferring appellate jurisdiction for care and protection matters to the Family Court to develop a national court of appeal for all private and public family law matters

    provision of appropriate legal advice and representation to children in need of legal services, including practice standards for children’s legal representatives and establishing a legal advice line, specialist children’s legal service units and a visiting solicitors’ scheme

  • amendments to federal legislation, including the Family Law Act, the Evidence Act, and the Trade Practices Actand negotiation with and encouragement of the States and Territories to similarly amend or enact relevant legislation

The recommendations made in this Report are accompanied by suggested implementation strategies to ensure responsibility is allocated for each recommendation. Many of these strategies refer to the Office for Children. If the Office for Children is not established immediately, alternative avenues must be found for the implementation of recommendations that relate to the Office.

[1] B Stevenson, Stevenson’s Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London 1949.