Dismont demands names of panellists
A lawyer has raised “serious concerns” over whether funding was in place for a panel of litigation guardians to represent children in court.
Saul Dismont also questioned why the five panel members had not been identified after Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, announced the creation of the group earlier this week.
He added: “It is great for there to have been some movement in the right direction, but of course there are serious concerns.”
Ms Simmons said the panel members were “qualified, certified and experienced social workers” when she announced the move on Tuesday, but did not give further details.
Mr Dismont has represented children in cases against the Department of Child and Family Services over a failure to fund independent advocates for them in court cases.
He said creation of the panel was “only one of the requirements” under the Children Act 1998.
He said: “What about funding? Can the Attorney-General confirm that funding has been made available? If not, why not?”
Mr Dismont said that without an operational budget, the guardians scheme would be a failure.
He also questioned the criteria and training for candidates for the panel.
Mr Dismont added: “In June, the Court of Appeal identified that the Attorney-General had a statutory duty to create a panel of litigation guardians, which had not been done for 20 years, and the Attorney-General had a statutory duty to ‘introduce an appropriate scheme that provides for the funding of litigation guardians and counsel to represent children’.”
The court also ruled that the Attorney-General’s failure to provide cash to pay for litigation guardians had breached children’s human rights.
Mr Dismont said that last month Martha Dismont, the executive director of Family Centre, started legal action to “force” the Attorney-General to create the panel.
The lawyer also applied to the Supreme Court for a judicial review of the failure of the Ministry of Legal Affairs to provide children with independent legal representation.
The existence of the panel was revealed last month as Tiffane Thomas, who has served as a litigation guardian, applied to the Supreme Court to withdraw her services because she had never been paid for her work.
Mr Dismont said: “If funding is not secured, the litigation guardians will end up not being able to continue for lack of payment, just as Tiffanne has done.”
Ms Dismont said this week that a group of charities had met Ms Simmons and that they had agreed to create the panel “as a collaborative exercise”.
Family Centre teamed up with the Coalition for the Protection of Children, as well as the charities Childwatch, Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda and Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, to push the case for litigation guardians in the Court of Appeal.
Ms Dismont said she and other charity heads had secured an agreement for consultation over the composition of the panel.
She added: “We were concerned about whether there would be independent litigation guardians — in other words, individuals with no association or bias relative to the Government.
“We said that an independent guardian would be someone working in children’s best interests and not in any limited sphere, including the Government, because they are limited by their remit.”
Kelly Hunt, the executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children, said she had been part of the meeting, which happened before the Court of Appeal’s ruling, when it was “agreed that we would collaborate with Government on this matter”.
Ms Hunt said: “Unfortunately, there has been no consultation with the direct service providers in the third sector since then.
“This is such an important matter that we must get it right. Proper transparency and accountability is critical where child safeguarding is concerned.”
Ms Hunt added: “We look forward to learning more details on the selection process, oversight and funding for these individuals.”
The Ministry of Legal Affairs did not respond to a request for more details on the panel.
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