The Children Act: Which best interest?

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The Children Act takes its name from the 1989 law governing family courts, the first provision of which states ‘the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration’. Each day Judge Fiona Maye (Emma Thompson) must apply that basic legal principle to complex practical situations. Should she separate a child from a parent who might be emotionally damaging? Should she separate a conjoined twin from its other half who might be physically destructive? Each day she must try to act with dispassionate diligence as she makes decisions about other people’s lives and relationships.

Now she is required to rule on the case of 17-year-old Adam Henry (Fionn Whitehead) who, together with his Jehovah’s Witness parents, is declining a life-saving blood transfusion. What decision is in the best interest of this child, who would rather die than deny his faith? And what impact will this have on his life?

Judge Fiona takes the unusual step of visiting his bedside, and becomes emotionally involved. So, this powerful, multi-layered, film draws us in to consider the nature of life, love, faith and relationships. Fiona says that she presides over a ‘court of law not of morals’, but can these actually be separated? Is it possible for anyone in this world to know what is in someone’s best interests? Indeed, can we ourselves even know what is in our own best interests?

As Fiona sits by Adam’s bedside she sings for him a poem by W. B. Yeats, which evokes the sadness of a man looking back on a lost love, and ends with profound and thought-provoking lyrics relevant to all of us as we consider decisions that we must make in our own lives: ‘She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs; but I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.’