Government is refusing to name the members of a new panel of litigation guardians meant to protect the rights of children in court proceedings.
Legal Affairs Minister Kathy Lynn Simmons announced the establishment of the panel on December 3 but has ignored repeated queries seeking to know how the panel was selected and who its members are.
Children's advocates have welcomed the advent of litigation guardians - correcting a 20 year breach of the Children's Act 1998 - but are also in the dark about who they are.
Litigation guardians are meant to be independent and represent only the interests of the child in certain proceedings such as court orders to send them to overseas institutions.
But it is impossible to determine their independence if the panel is kept secret.
“Our responsibility is to make sure any polices aimed at protecting and providing representation to our most vulnerable citizens – our children, are in accordance with the law. The litigation guardian is under a duty to represent the child and safeguard the child’s interests in certain proceedings.As the Minister responsible for child and family services, I am pleased to be the first Minister to establish a panel of persons to serve in this capacity. The Chief Justice has been advised accordingly and the Court can now effectively select a litigation guardian from the panel unless it is satisfied that it is not necessary to do so in order to safeguard the child’s interests. The panel is comprised currently of five persons who are qualified, certified and experienced social workers. The number of persons on the panel may increase in due course based on resource and service requirements.The Ministry will monitor and assess the effectiveness of the implementation of the present legislative scheme for the appointment of litigation guardians and counsel, whilst simultaneously advancing a fiscally sustainable and independent model in keeping with best practice in this area.”