Guidelines for judges meeting children in family proceedings were issued last month. Reading them, I have to acknowledge how much more sophisticated proceedings are now than when, once upon a time and more years ago than I can properly remember, I first started to frequent court as an eager trainee. I do recall, however, one instance when a senior Judge insisted on seeing a young child alone in a dispute over custody. Both parents were claiming that the child wanted to live with them to the exclusion of the other and, the child having lived happily with the mother for several years, the Judge was determined to get to the bottom of the father’s claim that she had changed her mind. The meeting took place in the Judge’s Chambers in private with a Court Welfare Officer present. In due course the Judge emerged and triumphantly declared that he had solved the puzzle and the child would not be changing homes. It seemed that her father had attempted to bribe her with the promise of a holiday in the exotic location of Skegness, if she moved to live with him.
Of concern at the time, however, was then whether or not the child was scarred by her experience of seeing the Judge. Not at all. She was overheard giggling with delight at seeing Father Christmas in November rather than December, though she did ask her mother if he always wore black and purple rather than red when he wasn’t riding in his sleigh!