Fears remain over unrepresented children
Vulnerable children are likely to continue to be sent abroad without any legal representation, according to Shadow Attorney-General Scott Pearman.
Mr Pearman said despite the Government allocating $242,000 in this year’s Budget for independent advocates, known as litigation guardians, for youngsters involved in court proceedings, it was no guarantee that those being sent overseas by the Department of Child and Family Services would be represented.
Mr Pearman asked health minister Kim Wilson in the House of Assembly last month if it was the case that “going forward, no Bermudian child will be sent away for treatment unless that child has a litigation guardian”.
Ms Wilson, speaking on behalf of senator Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, who is responsible for the DCFS, replied: “That is not correct.”
Mr Pearman told The Royal Gazette: “My question was intended to establish whether the ministry would commit, from now on, that no Bermuda child would be sent to an institution overseas without first having had the benefit of a litigation guardian to advise that child in Bermuda.
“I was hopeful that such commitment would be given to at least provide a local safety net. The ministry, via minister Wilson, would not agree to commit to that in the House.”
The One Bermuda Alliance MP added: “It therefore remains the case that Bermudian children may and likely will continue to be sent away without first having had the benefit of a litigation guardian to protect their interests as they proceed through the court system.”
Mr Pearman said the Children Act 1998 required the Family Court to consider in every case involving a child whether they needed a litigation guardian and lawyer.
He said the promised funding allocation of $242,000 was unlikely to meet the costs of an attorney, even working at Legal Aid rates.
“There is some doubt that there will be any funding for an attorney to act for the litigation guardian,” he said.
In the House on March 13, during debate on the Ministry of Legal Affairs budget, Mr Pearman said: “I am not sure we got an answer as to whether or not the budgeted figure that had been indicated of $242,000 was going to include attorneys or not and if it does not, where [are] those costs included?
“But just on this idea of children being sent away ... and we have seen a lot in the press about people themselves who have been sent away, it is right that going forward no Bermudian child will be sent away for treatment unless that child has a litigation guardian? Is that to be the position going forward?”
Ms Wilson replied: “That is not correct in that the litigation guardian actually is the voice of the child in the court proceedings, as you said, and they are not involved in the day-to-day case management of the child.
“Counsel under the current legislation can be appointed for children who are able to give instructions if the court deems it necessary to do so.”
Mr Pearman said: “So the answer to my question was no?”
Ms Wilson replied: “You are absolutely correct.”
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