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Judges meeting children: ‘Being heard’
  1. Robert Wheeler
  1. Paediatric Surgery, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Wheeler, Paediatric Surgery, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Southampton, UK; robert.wheeler{at}

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Thirty years ago, 15-year-old ‘A’ was admitted to hospital with pallor and bruising, having been taken ill on a Saturday afternoon on the football terraces, thereafter diagnosed with leukaemia. Treatment was started, but the child and his family were devout Jehovah’s Witnesses and refused to consent to a transfusion of blood products. The hospital authority sought the permission of the court1 to transfuse the boy. Blood and platelets were becoming urgently needed: his haemoglobin 4.6 g/dL, white cells 1.5, platelets 37. Evidence was adduced that with a further fall in haemoglobin, the risk to A’s life from a stroke or cardiac ischaemia might pose a greater risk than the leukaemia.

For unstated reasons, the judge, Ward HHJ, visited A in hospital. He was impressed by A’s intelligence but there was ‘a range of decisions… outside his ability fully to grasp their implications’. In a conclusion that the judge apparently reached during his visit, based on their conversation, he found that A did not understand the consequences of refusing blood transfusion. Accordingly, despite the absence of consent from A or his parents, leave was given to the hospital to administer blood products.

Prior to the Children Act 1989, it was left to judicial discretion as to whether a judge should meet a child who was the subject of proceedings. Under the Act, the ascertainable views of the child must be made known to the court via some means. In 2010, the Family Justice Council …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.