Sometimes during court proceedings regarding the parenting arrangements of a child, the court will appoint an independent children’s lawyer (ICL) to represent that child and present to the court an unbiased account of that child’s views and interests. The key focus of an ICL is to represent a child’s best interests and to ensure that they are the focus of any decisions a court is asked to make or any agreement that parties to proceedings reach that will affect the child.
An ICL is a solicitor and can be best described as the child’s court appointed solicitor who is independent to the court and to the other parties to the proceedings. The ICL is tasked with representing the child’s views and interests where available and appropriate. Because children do not attend court, the ICL attends on their behalf.
An ICL is usually appointed by an order of the court. However, an ICL may also be appointed upon application made by a child to be represented in proceedings or upon application of an organisation concerned with the welfare of a child.
A court will usually appoint an ICL in circumstances where one or more of the following issues exists:
- there are allegations of abuse or neglect in relation to the children;
- there is a high level of conflict and dispute between the parents;
- there are allegations made as to the views of the children and the children are of a mature age to express their views;
- there are allegations of family violence;
- serious mental health issues exist in relation to one or both of the parents or children;
- there are difficult and complex issues involved in the matter.
In circumstances where an ICL has been appointed, the ICL is tasked with the role of gathering evidence by way of issuing subpoenas or commissioning family reports and putting it before the court. Importantly, an ICL’s role also includes:
- facilitating the child’s participation in court proceedings where appropriate;
- acting as an intermediary and facilitating settlement negotiations between the parties whilst putting to the parties the child’s views and interests.
To be able to fulfil their obligations as an ICL, the ICL will usually read all court material filed and inspect any documents produced under subpoena. Depending on the child’s age and the circumstances of the case, the ICL will meet with and talk with the child.
To gain a better understanding of the child’s circumstances, in particular their welfare and development in the wake their parent’s dispute, the ICL may speak with relevant people in the child’s life, including family consultants, doctors, counsellors, teachers and psychologists.
Whilst the overarching role of an ICL is to present to the court an independent and unbiased account of a child’s views and opinions, the ICL is also tasked with considering the evidence available and the views expressed by all parties, and to offer recommendations as to what orders the court should make. Such recommendations may be relied upon to assist and guide the court in determining the orders it should make in the best interests of the child.