World experts on children’s legal rights meet to support voices of children.

25 March 2013

Leading children’s legal rights experts from around the world met at a Colloquium on 25 March to support improvements in how legal systems listen to children and young people.

Hosted by The University of Auckland’s Faculty of Law, the colloquium marks the 20th anniversary of New Zealand’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

New Zealand’s own youth justice system is internationally acknowledged for its success in keeping young people out of the criminal justice system, and in dealing with them in family group conferences. However there is criticism of current family court reform proposals which fall short of international standards and do not reflect best practice in other countries.

Alison Cleland, former practising family lawyer and senior lecturer at Auckland’s Faculty of Law says: “New Zealand is seen as a world leader on issues relating to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, but there are some serious concerns about potential breach by removing ‘lawyer for child’ from the bulk of family law cases under the Family Court Proceedings Bill.

“Colloquium discussions focused on assessing how children and young people’s views are heard in different areas of child law practice, alongside the roles of lawyers for children and young people in different legal settings,” says Alison.

17 child law experts from Canada, USA, South Africa, UK, Australia and New Zealand gathered at the University to discuss topics including child abduction, adoption, domestic abuse, relocation, family proceedings, child protection and youth justice. The keynote address was given given by Professor Elaine Sutherland, Professor of Child and Family Law at University of Stirling, Scotland. Professor Sutherland’s latest publication is The Future of Child and Family Law: International Predictions (2012, Cambridge University Press).

The Colloquium also heard from Distinguished Professor Linda Elrod from American’s Washburn University School of Law, who discussed child abduction. Invited observers to the event included Dr Ian Hassall, a former New Zealand children’s commissioner.

“It is hoped that discussions and subsequent publications will contribute to promoting best legal practice in listening to children’s voices both in New Zealand and internationally,” says Alison Cleland.

The Colloquium is funded by The University of Auckland Faculty Research and Development Fund.