In often bitter disputes, Independent Children’s Lawyers (ICLs) ensure that the Court understands the wishes of a child and help protect the child’s best interests.
The new Practice Standards and Guidelines (PSG) developed by Tasmania Legal Aid (TLA) was formally launched on Monday 20 June 2022 by the Chief Justice of the FCFCOA, the Honourable Chief Justice Alstergren.
TLA Director Vincenzo Caltabiano said children are a focus in the organisation’s Strategic Plan.
“Children are the most vulnerable members of our community and often the most invisible participants in the legal system,” Mr Caltabiano said.
“This work is all about putting children at the centre of our work and giving them a voice.”
Mr Caltabiano said the guidelines are an Australian first and the most comprehensive resource for lawyers representing vulnerable children.
The Honourable Chief Justice Alstergren supports the development of the practice standards and guidelines for Independent Children’s Lawyers working in the jurisdiction of family law.
“ICLs play an incredibly important role in representing the best interests of children who are the subject of family law disputes,” Justice Alstergren said.
“They provide children with meaningful opportunities to participate in decisions that are being made about them. In doing so, ICLs are instrumental in ensuring that Australia (through the Courts) meets its commitments as a signatory of United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).
“The ICL role is unique and distinctly different from the role of Court Child Experts, Regulation 7 Family Consultants, and other social science experts. However, all of these child-focused roles complement each other and have a profound impact on the safety and well-being of children.
“Congratulations to Tasmania Legal Aid and all others who have been involved in the development of these very comprehensive and practical guidelines.”
Associate Director Family Law Kristen Wylie said the guidelines respond to children’s feedback about what they need.
“Children want to be involved and heard in decisions that affect them,” Ms Wylie said.
“Lawyers need the skills and tools to engage the child, so the child feels understood, valued and believed. The guidelines provide this.
Child lawyers work with children who have been impacted by trauma including family violence. Lawyers need to be aware of these issues and able to respond appropriately. Done right, this supports the safety, dignity and wellbeing of the child.”
TLA developed the guidelines over 18 months with input from child experts, the Federal Circuit and Family Court, the Commissioner for Children and Young People, the Child Advocate, the Law Society and the Family Law Practitioners of Tasmania, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service, Australian Childhood Foundation, Migrant Resource Centre, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Departments of Education and Communities Tasmania.
“I want to thank all of the contributors for helping create guidelines that ensure children receive high quality legal services,” Mr Caltabiano said.
While some information is specific to Tasmanian practice and the availability of resources across Tasmania, the resource aligns with the current national Guidelines for Independent Children’s Lawyers, endorsed by Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia.