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President of Family Division circular: Amendment to Practice Direction PD12D – Interviewing Wards of Court

On 4 May 2017 I handed down judgment  In the matter of a Ward of Court [2017] EWHC 1022 (Fam). It related to the question whether police officers and officers of the Security Service may interview a ward of court without first having obtained the approval of the wardship judge.

In the course of my judgment I had to consider paras 5.1 – 5.6 of PD12D (set out in para 40 of the judgment). Para 5.2 of PD12D stated baldly, though the effect was somewhat modified by what followed, that

“Where the police need to interview a child who is already a ward of court, an application must be made for permission for the police to do so.”

For the reasons set out in the judgment, I concluded (para 46) that

“the asserted principle or rule that judicial consent is required before the police can interview a ward of court, is impossible to reconcile [with other established principles].”

I said (para 48) that PD12D

“in significant part is … simply wrong.”

I went on (para 49) to observe that there was

“a pressing need for paragraph 5 of PD12D to be considered as a matter of urgency by the Family Procedure Rule Committee”, adding that “[r]adical surgery will probably be required.”

I am grateful for the assistance of the Rule Committee and of the relevant officials, who have acted with commendable speed and diligence in assisting me to decide how PD12D should be amended. I made the necessary amendments on 14 June 2017. They were approved the same day by the Lord Chancellor. They come into effect today, 16 June 2017.

Accordingly, with effect from 16 June 2017, paras 5.1 – 5.6 of PD12D have been removed in their entirety. Paragraph 5 of PD12D now reads as follows:

“5.1        Case law establishes that:

  1. There is no requirement for the police or any other agency carrying out statutory powers of investigation or enforcement to seek the permission of the court to interview a child who is a ward of court. The fact that a child is a ward of court does not affect the powers and duties of the police or other statutory agencies in relation to their investigations. Provided that the relevant statutory requirements are complied with, the police or other agencies are under no duty to take any special steps in carrying out their functions in relation to a child who is a ward of court.
  2. Where a child has been interviewed by the police in connection with contemplated criminal proceedings and the child is, or subsequently becomes, a ward of court, the permission of the court is not required for the child to be called as a witness in the criminal proceedings.

For a full review of the relevant case law and principles, see In the matter of a Ward of Court [2017] EWHC 1022 (Fam).

5.2          Where the police or other statutory agencies take any action in relation to a child who is a ward of court, the person(s) with day to day care and control of the child, or where applicable the local authority, should bring the relevant information to the attention of the court as soon as practicable. Where wardship proceedings are continuing, any children’s guardian appointed for the child must be informed of the situation by the other parties.”


James Munby
President of the Family Division