No Weight for “Due Weight”? A Children’s Autonomy Principle in Best Interest Proceedings

In: The International Journal of Children's Rights
Aoife Daly Senior Lecturer/Deputy Director, School of Law and Social Justice/European Children’s Rights Unit, University of Liverpool

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Article 12 of the un Convention on the Rights of the Child (crc) stipulates that children should have their views accorded due weight in accordance with age and maturity, including in proceedings affecting them. Yet there is no accepted understanding as to how to weigh children’s views, and it is associated strongly with the indeterminate notion of “competence”. In this article, case law and empirical research is drawn upon to argue that the concept of weighing their views has been an obstacle to children’s rights, preventing influence on outcomes for children in proceedings in which their best interests are determined. Younger children and those whose wishes incline against the prevailing orthodoxy (they may resist contact with a parent, for example) particularly lose out. Children’s views appear only to be given “significant weight” if the judge agrees with them anyway. As it is the notion of autonomy which is prioritised in areas such as medical and disability law and parents’ rights, it is proposed in this article that a children’s autonomy principle is adopted in proceedings – in legal decisions in which the best interest of the child is the primary consideration, children should get to choose, if they wish, how they are involved and the outcome, unless it is likely that significant harm will arise from their wishes. They should also have “autonomy support” to assist them in proceedings. This would likely ensure greater influence for children and require more transparent decision-making by adults.

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