26 Nov 2004

THE Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People Nigel Williams today (Friday) opened a major conference in Belfast on children’s rights and the law by declaring that his focus will be on “fixing things”.

Mr Williams, addressing the “Children’s Rights: Moving On” Conference at the Waterfront Hall, said that taking cases to court was very important for NICCY, but it was a last resort.

“Everyone in NICCY knows that our focus is on children and young people, and fixing things that need fixed,” he said. “Going to court is an important part of our powers, but I firmly believe it should be as a last resort when other avenues have been exhausted.

“Starting legal proceedings is a big step. That is why, in our current consultation on our corporate plan we are asking for views on the criteria we should apply in deciding when we take cases for, and on behalf of children and young people in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Williams explained that NICCY has a key role on behalf of individual children and young people.

“Despite the fact that we are not yet fully staffed we have received more than 250 complaints from children and young people – or those closest to them – about the services they receive or the way they have been treated.

“The vast majority of these have been concluded to the satisfaction of the young person making the complaint, without the need to take proceedings. But, when necessary I will not hesitate to bring action as appropriate.”

The Commissioner co-hosted the conference with the Children’s Law Centre, the Bar Council of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Northern Ireland.

Key speaker was the Rt Hon Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss DBE, President of the Family Division of the High Court.

Speaking on behalf of co-hosts, the Children’s Law Centre Director, Paddy Kelly, said hard hitting messages were going to be heard and there would be a clear challenge to children’s rights advocates and lawyers to use the law to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children.

“The UK government signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child but it has been repeatedly criticised by the UN Committee for failing to deliver for children. Regrettably children’s rights are still being denied in this jurisdiction,” she said.

“Our Traveller children are three times more likely to die than settled children, the use of physical force in the punishment of children is still legal, large numbers of our children are still being denied access to a proper education and every second child is living in poverty.”

Ms Kelly went on:

“It is four years since the Human Rights Act 1998 came into force. It presents a real opportunity to promote and protect the rights of children and young people.

“This conference will be an opportunity to take stock of what the Human Rights Act has delivered for children over the last four years and identify the areas where the law must act in the future to protect our most vulnerable children. It will present a challenge to children’s rights advocates and lawyers to use the law to improve the lives of our most vulnerable children.”

Notes for Editors

  • 1. The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People is independent of Government and acts to promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of children and young people in Northern Ireland.
  • 2. Further details of the role of the Commissioner can be found on www.niccy.org
  • 3. The Children’s Law Centre is a children’s rights charity established in 1997 and founded on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It uses the law to Promote, Protect and Realise Children’s Rights. It provides legal advice and information on children’s legal rights.
  • 4. The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK domestic legislation.
  • 5. The UK government ratified the UNCRC in 1991.

For further info on the Children's Law Centre contact Paddy Kelly on 02890 245 704, 07810 502 701.