Girl is reconciled with family after separation case

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The Independent Online
THE 14-year-old girl who took court action for the right to live away from her parents has become reconciled with her family under a private agreement reached in the High Court yesterday.

The judge made a plea to the media for the girl to be allowed to get on with her life, but he did not reveal whether she had been granted her wish to carry on living with her 18-year-old boyfriend's family.

Settlement of her case came after lengthy out-of-court talks, conducted through lawyers, between the girl, her mother and the mother of her boyfriend.

The agreement was sanctioned at a private hearing by the President of the Family Division, Sir Stephen Brown, who last month made the girl a ward of court at her mother's request.

Sir Stephen emphasised that it was not a case of a 'precocious or wilful young lady' trying to assert her independence by 'divorcing' her parents.

He said that the girl had been troubled by pressures at home in the aftermath of divorce proceedings between her parents. She had gone to live with her boyfriend's family and then sought help through the courts, as she was entitled to do.

Under the agreement, the girl will remain a ward of court, with the Official Solicitor, David Venables, acting as her legal guardian.

It was a 'relaxed situation', the judge said, and it was vital that the girl should not be harassed or subjected to publicity.

The girl, from Ilford, east London, described by the judge as sensitive and intelligent, cannot be named for legal reasons.

The dispute over where she should be allowed to live began when she instructed solicitors who obtained a 'prohibited steps' order from a judge at Guildford County Court which prevented her parents taking her away from the boyfriend's home in Surrey.

She brought her case under the 1989 Children Act which allows children, for the first time, to initiate proceedings and instruct a solicitor to make applications to the courts. The case moved to the High Court when she sought a 'residence order' allowing her to stay where she wanted.

Sir Stephen said that the girl had a hereditary medical condition which gave rise to stress when she was under pressure. It was to avoid pressure that she went to live with her boyfriend's family.

The county court order she obtained was 'rather stringent' and the case was transferred to the High Court.

Since then the Official Solicitor had obtained reports from an adolescent psychiatrist and another specialist. As a result, an agreement was reached keeping the girl under the court's supervision.

'Her future is being considered carefully and she has every opportunity of a very bright future,' the judge said.

Sir Stephen said that the girl's parents, her boyfriend and his mother were 'people of the highest integrity and character'.

He added: 'I have seen a school report on the boyfriend which is most impressive and which speaks of his responsibility and his very clear intellectual attainments.'

In future, similar court applications by children should go straight to the High Court or be transferred if initiated in a lower court, he said.