The judiciary will study ways to give children more of a say and better protection in legal proceedings that affect them. A senior judge said this yesterday as participants at a Law Association seminar vowed to promote the best interests of children in custodial arrangements. Mr Justice Michael Hartmann of the Court of Appeal, one of the guest speakers, said a working group would be set up to see what could be done to improve protection and benefits for children in court proceedings. 'The chief justice agreed in principal to putting together a group which will look into fundamental changes in procedures to better protect the interests of children. It will be formed and will start to work soon,' he said. Family Court Judge Sharon Melloy said the working group would be a high-powered one that would try to ease the pressure on children appearing in court and might make the proceedings more 'child-centric'. While praising the present system for its dedicated family court, mediation co-ordination and involvement of social workers, Melloy said there were also some shortcomings, such as the adversarial system for children, little child inclusion and financial resources. The seminar - 'The Resolution of Disputes Relating to Children in Hong Kong' - was attended by local and overseas judges, lawyers, mediators and counsellors. University of Hong Kong law faculty dean Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun said a review of the system had been discussed for more than 20 years. 'When parents take their marriage problems to court, the effect on children is quite big, especially in some cases where parents have a fierce argument,' he said. On seeking children's views in custody battles, Chan said the courts had room for improvement, though judges now already considered the views of children expressed to an officer of the Social Welfare Department or by asking children directly. 'But then usually the atmosphere in the court hearings is quite confrontational, and we need to see how to make it less adverse to children.' The court should also pay more attention to children during divorce hearings as they were victims. 'I think the biggest problem of the issue is not in the court but the fact that we do not have enough professionals. We not only require legal professionals, but also psychologists and social workers,' Chan said. 'However, we merely have about 100 clinical psychologists in the city, of which only a few dozen specialise in children. And we also don't have enough social workers and most are overloaded.' The chief justice of Australia's family court, Diana Bryant, said that since 2006, family court judges had become more flexible in custodial arrangement as well as in cross-examination and calling witness. 'Judges will also try to familiarise themselves with the cases before formal hearings by talking to parents and children in advance to make the atmosphere in the court less confrontational.'