MALTA: 'Children must be heard in court'

[13 October 2008] - Laws concerning children’s rights should be brought together in one comprehensive law, Labour family and equality spokesman Justyne Caruana said. In a statement issued this week, the Labour MP said that the right of children to express their own views in court needs to be strengthened.

Dr Caruana commented on the recent case concerning Shaun Attard, who was sent by the courts to live with his mother in the UK against his wishes in 2006.

The boy returned to Malta in October after his father was granted custody by the British courts.

The Labour MP said that the case highlighted the faults present in current legislation.

While Dr Caruana welcomed recent improvements and increasing opportunity for children to be heard in court, she said that this right is currently far from guaranteed.

The court may grant children the opportunity to speak at its discretion, Dr Caruana said, but this is not currently the norm, and children do not have the ability to initiate legal proceedings to ensure that they are heard.

Additionally, a court order is required for the appointment of a children’s advocate to speak on the child’s behalf, she added, and requests for this appointment have often been refused.

Children’s rights are currently legislated through several scattered laws, Dr Caruana said, and it is time for these laws to be collected and strengthened in a single comprehensive law.

Dr Caruana also urged the Commissioner for Children and relevant authorities and public entities, to follow Malta’s progress in relation to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to declare what needs to be done to ensure that Maltese laws fully conform to the convention that the country signed and ratified.

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