Guardian Ad Litem

What is a Guardian ad Litem?

The Guardian ad Litem is an independent officer of the court. They represent the child in care order proceedings. Their role is to speak to the child and advise the court of the wishes and feelings of the child. The Guardian represents and safeguard a child’s interests. The Guardian will thoroughly investigate the child’s circumstances of the child and provide a recommendation to the court.

When does a Guardian become involved?

They are involved in Care Order Cases. This is when Social Services are involved in a case and want to share responsibility for a child with their parents. A child may have been removed from their family and placed in foster care. If this happens Social Services must have a plan about what happens next, they then need to attend court and ask the court to approve their plan. It is usually the case that the parents and the child will disagree with this plan. In order to assist the court in its decision, the court appoints a Guardian and a solicitor to represent the child only.

What is the solicitor’s role?

A solicitor is appointed to work with the Guardian Ad Litem. They work in partnership with the Guardian to promote the interests of the child and advise the court on the child’s wishes and feelings. They must try and achieve the best possible outcome for the child. This can sometimes be difficult as the job of the solicitor is to balance the child’s rights and wishes with their responsibility to keep the child from harm.

How do the Guardian and Solicitor work for a child?

The Guardian and solicitor meet with the child during the court proceedings. It is their role to ascertain the following.

  • The child’s wishes and feelings and views regarding background events
  • The child’s perception of the reasons leading up to the taking of the proceedings
  • The child’s perception of his stay in care
  • The child’s view of the most appropriate order the court should make; if any
  • The child’s views as to the future.

The solicitor will have to balance those things which the child is able to explain against those which he or she is not. Obviously this cannot be done in one meeting because the solicitor and Guardian will not want to rush the child. They will need to proceed at the pace of the child.

What happens after the Guardian and Solicitor have met with the child?

The solicitor will inform the court of the child’s wishes and feelings. Along with the Guardian they will make a recommendation to the court about what should happen. Throughout the proceedings they work to safeguard the child’s interests. The Guardian provides a report to the court, written in light of all the information gathered in the investigation.

The principles of the Children’s Order (NI) Order 1995 are that the needs and voice of the child must be heard. The legislation also states that the child’s welfare is paramount.

If a child is able to understand the implications of a decision then, save in exceptional circumstances, the child’s instructions should prevail over those of someone acting for them.

To find out more about Guardian Ad Litem, please contact Una Conway, head of Family Law at Hunt Solicitors.