Court rules and forms aimed at advancing the protection of children in the Cayman Islands take effect today, according to court officials.
The rules follow the passage and coming into effect of the Children Law  last year.
The court rules make some major changes to the way in which issues relating to the care of children are dealt with when parents separate or can’t agree on what is best for their child. They also introduce arrangements for someone other than the immediate family to care for a child, in cases where that is deemed necessary.
“The comprehensive rules and forms, which come into force Monday [today], seek to ensure that the interests of all parties are properly taken into account and that decisions are made on the basis of the best interests of the child involved,” according to a press release issued by the courts.
Under the Children (Amendment) Law, 2009, adults who stay silent when they suspect a child is being abused could face up to six months jail or a $2,000 fine. The mandatory reporting regime, debated by Cayman Islands lawmakers in March 2009, requires a broad swath of professionals who work with children to make a report to authorities if they believe a child is being abused or neglected. Doctors and other health professionals, teachers, police officers, ministers of religion, child care providers and public servants that work with children would be required to report their concerns, as will probation officers, church workers, school employees and counsellors.
According to the law, which took effect in July 2012, “abuse” includes sexual, physical or emotional abuse of the child. The law considers it neglect if the child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, physical or psychological injury detrimental to his or her wellbeing, or if the child’s physical or physiological development is in jeopardy.
Anyone making a report under the law will be granted immunity from any civil or criminal liability, provided they have acted in good faith. They will also be shielded from any claim they have acted in breach of any code of professional etiquette or ethics. Those making reports will do so confidentially and there is a general prohibition on the person’s name being revealed in court proceedings.
The Children Law, court rules and forms can be found on the “Court Rules” page on the judicial website www.judicial.ky. The website also has guidance regarding what applications can be made, how to make them and what a person should do if they are served with an application.
It is the intention of the courts system to set up a new family court wing within a new courts building when that is available. For now, the family division of the Grand Court will be led by Justice Richard Williams, who will serve as judge for the case management of all family and children’s cases before the Grand Court. In Summary Court, Chief Magistrate Nova Hall will liaise with Justice Williams for the management of those cases.
“Regrettably, here in the Cayman Islands like everywhere else, there are a significant number of divorces as well as many children born to parents who are not married to each other,” Justice Williams said. “The biggest single factor in a child’s adjustment to the parents’ divorce or separation is how well the parents restructure their relationship to continue to meet the needs of the child; overall the law and the rules focus on what children need and how parents can be helped to better meet these needs during and after relationship break down.”
The new rules seek to address situations where it may be necessary to consider the child’s care outside of the family. Provision is also made for cases in which it may be necessary for the family to be required to change the way they live in order to make sure that the child’s needs are properly met.
In some cases, the court can appoint an independent guardian to help decide what is in the best interest of the child.