Equal Justice for Migrant Children, a project launched by the First
Rights programme of Methoria, aims to promote a model of justice for
migrant and separated children by building upon the rights acquired by
children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Central
to this aim is the need to uphold the principle of the best interests
of the child by putting children’s rights considerations at the centre
of all decision making processes. By doing so, we believe it is
possible to better realise the rights of children while also
protecting their psychological well-being.
Proposals for A Children’s Court
The challenge to ensure that the dignity of migrant children is guaranteed, and that experiences of humiliation are prevented, remains vast. However, a significant step towards this aim is establishing a court that adopts a multi-disciplinary and cooperative approach to advance the rights and interests of children based on the best legal and social care practice, encompassed within the framework of international children’s rights law.
Equal Justice for Migrant children is leading an effort to establish a specialised court for unaccompanied and separated migrant children in the UK with the hope that this court will eventually serve all young people, regardless of their protection or immigration status - whether migrant, refugee, citizen, or resident - in relation to all legal questions in their lives. As such, this Children’s Court will prove to be a significant step towards a child-friendly model of justice that may even be replicated in legal systems outside of the UK.
Many individuals working with unaccompanied and separated children remain concerned that the procedures, decision making processes, and systems that migrant children must navigate, are ineffective. These young people may be some of the vulnerable individuals in society and, by nature of their precarious protection status, are at a heightened risk of further abuse. Crucially, there is concern that all too often when issues relating to unaccompanied and separated migrant children are being considered, the principle of the best interests of the child – a fundamental principle in international human rights law - is not the primary consideration and that insufficient attention is paid to the duty to safeguard and promote welfare. The focus is, instead, disproportionately and incorrectly placed on the child’s immigration or protection status.
This is only one of the many challenges facing those striving to change practice in this area. For example, while we know the numbers of children who claim asylum in the UK, we do not have details as to what happens to them after that, nor do we have data on the numbers of young people involved in court or tribunal proceedings other than in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber. As such, the true scale of the ways unaccompanied and separated children are let down by multiple systems is difficult to measure.
Another challenge lies in the fact that the various systemsthat migrant children are required to navigate are not linked to one another. In the UK, issues of
immigration are dealt with at a national level whilst child protection
and children’s services are considered a local authority
responsibility. There is an urgent need, in the case of unaccompanied
migrant children, for these two jurisdictions to be brought together
within a single body free from political pressure. Such a change would
establish a mechanism capable of making proper decisions about who is
a child and how this fact is determined and, for those who are, how
their welfare can be promoted, and their rights respected.
By doing so, a children’s court could potentially consider and answer all legal questions arising in the life of a migrant child as part of an over-arching jurisdiction, removing the current requirement for children to repeat their accounts, so often traumatic, in each separate forum that touches and concerns their well-being and their rights.
A History of Equal Justice for Migrant Children The idea of a
specialised court for children, in particular, unaccompanied and
separated refugee and migrant children, is not new. This idea was
previously raised in roundtable discussions initiated and led by the
Legal and Policy Officer at Coram Children’s Legal Centre (Coram
CLC) in 2011 as well as Catriona Jarvis and Syd Bolton, together
with Sir Mark Potter and others, at the Commonwealth Magistrates and
Judges Conference in 2009. In 2014, a proposal for a specialised
court model was rejected by the government on the basis it would
require “a fundamental restructuring of the court system”, something
deemed “unrealistic” at the time.
Following this rejection, a Steering Group was established to fuel discussions about alternative means of ensuring that children’s rights are central to decision making on legal issues affecting unaccompanied and separated migrant children.
This Steering Group had considerable knowledge and experience, and was made up of lawyers, social workers, guardians, and former judges, as well as those with experience of research and policy development. It was also supported by a much wider reference group, which was able to provide additional advice and expertise. By the end of 2020, the work of the Steering Group was transferred to Equal Justice for Migrant Children, as part of the First Rights Project of the UK registered charity Methoria, with members of the Steering Group subsequently becoming the Equal Justice for Migrant Children (EMJC) Advisory Group.
While the early Steering Group was officially called the ‘Unaccompanied Migrant Children’s Court Steering Group’ we have always included, from the outset, separated migrant children. This includes those young people who are not cared for by their parents or usual guardians, albeit if they may be cared for or accompanied by another adult, such as a sibling or other relative or friend of the family. This decision was based on the aim to support not only refugee or asylum-seeking children, but all non-citizen children (and eventually all children). Hence the use of the term ‘migrant’ to reflect an inclusive model.
At the end of 2020 the project came under the umbrella of Methoria as part of the First Rights Programme, before becoming Equal Justice for Migrant Children in January 2021.
The Equal Justice for Migrant Children advisory group has developed an outline proposal for an inclusive jurisdiction - a model for a ‘one stop shop’ - through the inherent jurisdiction of the Family Division of the High Court in the UK. This inclusive jurisdiction will act in a supervisory capacity, sitting as needed, with judges from other disciplines. In March 2021, Equal Justice for Migrant Children will hold its first meeting, an expert roundtable, bringing together immigration, family, and children law practitioners, as well as child welfare specialists, children rights NGOs, and members of the judiciary to examine proposals for this model court. The second meeting, a webinar chaired by Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, will provide an opportunity to refine and develop these proposals and share our vision for a fairer form of child justice with a wider audience.
Solicitor, Osbornes Law, specialist in cross-border children’s law cases including international adoption.
Solicitor Advocate, Child Law Specialist, Associate Bindmans Solicitors
Independent Social Worker, senior practitioner, lecturer, consultant
Chair of Negalro
(Chair) Former Judge of the UK Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber); former children law practitioner; former teacher
Sukhchandan Pal Kaur
Former Chair of Nagalro
Founder and Senior Lawyer, The AIRE Centre UK
Volunteer solicitor Refugee Action Kingston, former part time Tribunal judge (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) and child care practitioner
Lawyer, Europe Litigation Coordinator, The AIRE Centre UK
Barrister, Blackstone Chambers
Ryan Tunnard Brown
Solicitor, Partner at Bindmans, Joint Head of Immigration Department
Dr. Helena Wray
Associate Professor of Migration Law, University of Exeter, Editor, Journal of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law
former Chair of Negalro
Last Rights & Methoria
The trustees of Methoria are Catriona Jarvis, former UK Judge of the Upper Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) (Chair); Syd Bolton, UK solicitor, (non-practising) children law expert, Pat Monro, former judge of the UK First Tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber), Adrian Berry, UK Barrister at Garden Court Chambers and Nuala Mole, Founder and Senior Lawyer, AIRE Centre, UK.
Catriona Jarvis and Syd Bolton are the Co-Conveners of both the First Rights and Last Rights Programmes of Methoria.