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Litigation guardians recruitment drive launched by ministry

Appeal: A drive to recruit litigation guardians for children involved in court proceedings has been launched (File photograph)

A children’s rights campaigner yesterday welcomed a recruitment drive for litigation guardians for children and young people who appear in court.

Tiffanne Thomas, a social worker who worked as a litigation guardian in a string of cases from 2014, said she was pleased the Government had “progressed the issue of child representation”.

Ms Thomas, who withdrew as an independent guardian because she had not been paid for her work, said it was “crucial that in accordance with Section 35 of the Children Act 1998, children be afforded opportunities to be heard through their independent litigation guardian”.

Her court battle with the Government for more than $2.6 million in unpaid fees was settled in October 2020 for an undisclosed sum.

Ms Thomas, the executive director of the charity Transitional Community Services, said: “The introduction of the voice of a child in proceedings is monumental and is certainly a step in the right direction.

“I look forward to learning more about the Government’s litigation guardian framework, the training that will be afforded, and the oversight that will ensure that this service is being facilitated in fidelity to the framework.”

Ms Thomas was speaking after the Ministry of Social Development and Seniors asked for expressions of interest for the role.

A ministry spokeswoman said: “The litigation guardian role is a vital check and balance on assessing and analysing a child’s situation and in the court’s decision-making process.

“Situations involving children at risk in the home or in the community are rarely clear-cut or straightforward.

“Evidence can be capable of more than one interpretation which is why an independent view from the child’s perspective is so important in the court process.”

Applicants should have a minimum of a master’s degree in social work or a similar discipline, at least five years of practical experience and be able to demonstrate they can work as part of a team.

The job description said “exposure to the legal system would be a definite asset”.

It added applicants should be able to “conduct themselves appropriately within chambers or in open court” as well as be able to “compose professional concise court reports that clearly illustrate the attention to family systems and well-presented recommendations that are in the child’s best interest”.

They should also be prepared to take part in continuing education, training seminars and conferences.

The first panel of litigation guardians was established in 2019 after charities petitioned the courts for the Government to introduce a scheme to fund them.

Litigation guardians are appointed by Tinée Furbert, the social development and seniors minister.

Ms Furbert said: "This is an essential role in the process of assessing what is in the best interest of the children who require intervention through the Bermuda court system.

“We appeal for those qualified individuals who are interested to fill in the required application, stating litigating guardian panel, as well as include an updated resume.”

Ms Furbert said: "I look forward to receiving the expressions of interest and I want to thank our community in advance for their support, interest, and commitment to what we are seeking to achieve."

The Litigation Guardian application form can be found here.

Potential litigation guardians will be invited to a familiarisation session to be held in the week starting February 21.

Contact the Ministry of Social Development and Seniors at msdshq@gov.bm or by phone at 444 2466 for more information.

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Published January 24, 2022 at 8:02 am (Updated January 24, 2022 at 8:02 am)

Litigation guardians recruitment drive launched by ministry

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