Can a Judgment be delivered by way of a letter to a child?

In Re A (Letter to a Young Person) (Rev 1) [2017] EWFC 48, a 14 year old child instructed his own solicitor and made an application to relocate to Scandinavia with his father. In the alternative he applied for more contact with his father and if his father relocated without him then he wished for some clarity regarding the contact arrangements. He was considered competent to make the application himself but his father subsequently proceeded with the application.

There were legal arguments over whether the child would give oral evidence – he and his father wanted him to do so; the CAFCASS officer, his mother and stepfather did not believe he should. Mr Justice Peter Jackson decided that he should give oral evidence but that it should be at the very beginning of the hearing and he should not be subject to questioning by his parents. Each parent prepared five questions in advance that the Judge then put to the child.

The Judgment sets this case apart from other similar cases because the Judge gave his decision by way of a letter to the child which was given to him by his solicitor. The letter was read to the parents in court.

In the letter the Judge explained to the child what he had to consider when making a decision in cases like this.  The Judge is praised for the letter and for the way in which it clearly explains what was considered, the relevant law, the evidence, and the decisions that the Judge had to make in relation to this specific case.  The letter was a way of acknowledging that the child is the centre of the case and therefore that the Judgement should be addressed to him.

The letter has however received criticism for the expression of the strong opinions that the Judge had of the father and the way he portrays them to the child. This can be seen as unfair because the father is being directly criticised to his son which could negatively impact on their relationship. The Judge believed the application was made because the child loves his father and wanted to make him happy and not necessarily because he actually wanted to relocate with him.

The intention of the harsh words in the letter was to prompt the child to really think about his expressed reasons for the application and his opinions towards his father. However it may be viewed as pushing the child to make a decision he did not want.