Call for views on the Children (Scotland) Bill

Introduction

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee is asking for views on the Children (Scotland) Bill. The Bill mainly makes changes to how disputes in relation to children are settled when families break down. This includes changes to ensure that the voice of the child is heard in court proceedings. The Bill also includes measures aimed at protecting the best interests of children, such as requiring child contact centres to be regulated.

Please note that in most cases your written submission will be published on the Scottish Parliament’s website and may be quoted in the Committee’s report or in Committee meetings (which are in public and broadcasted).

If you wish to request that your submission be published without your name, please contact the clerks by emailing [email protected] or telephoning 0131 348 5047.

Before making a submission, please read our privacy notice about submitting you views to a committee. This tells you about how we process your personal data.

Please tell us if you under 12 when making a submission. This is because we will need to ask your parent or guardian to confirm to us that they are happy for you to send us your views. Please read this privacy notice for children and young people before making your submission.

Background to the Bill

The Bill was introduced by the Scottish Government on 2 September 2019. A copy of the Bill and the accompanying documents can be found at: https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/112632.aspx

The Scottish Government has also published a number of impact assessments relating to the Bill:

According to the Scottish Government, the aims of the Bill are to:

  • ensure the views of the child are heard in contact and residence cases;
  • further protect victims of domestic abuse and their children;
  • ensure the best interests of the child are at the centre of contact and residence cases and Children’s Hearings; and
  • further compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in family court cases.

The Bill makes various changes to existing legislation try to achieve these aims, including:

  • encouraging the views of younger children to be heard, by removing the presumption that a child over the age of 12 is of sufficient age and maturity to form a view;
  • establishing registers of child welfare reporters (who can seek the views of the child or undertake other enquiries and make reports to the court) and curators ad litem (who can be appointed to safeguard the interests of a child during the proceedings);
  • protecting vulnerable witnesses in court in cases concerning children, for example, by prohibiting a party personally questioning a witness where there are allegations of domestic abuse;
  • adding to the list of factors the court must consider when making decisions about contact and residence;
  • regulating child contact centres, where services are provided for children to maintain contact with parents and other family members they are not living with;
  • promoting contact between looked after children and siblings; and
  • recognising parental rights and responsibilities obtained outwith the UK.

The Scottish Government has also published a Family Justice Modernisation Strategy. This Strategy sets out other actions being taken by the Scottish Government and others to improve family justice in Scotland.

How to submit your views

The Committee welcomes your views on any issue relating to the Bill. This could include views on any of the following areas or questions:

  1. Voice of the child: Do you agree with the approach taken in the Bill to remove the presumption that a child aged 12 or over is of sufficient age and maturity to form a view? Do you agree that it should be left to the court to decide the most suitable way of obtaining a child’s views? How do you think children should be given the opportunity to express their views? Are there other measures that you think should be in the Bill to ensure that the voice of the child is heard?
  2. Child’s best interests: To what extent does the Bill meet one of its key policy aims of ensuring that the best interests of the child are at the centre of contact and residence cases and Children’s Hearings?
  3. Child welfare reporters and curators ad litem: Do you agree that child welfare reporters and curators ad litem should be regulated? Do you have any views on how this should work in practice?
  4. Factors to be considered by the court when making contact and residence orders: The Bill would require the court to consider the effect of an order on the involvement of the child’s parents in bringing up the child and the effect on the child’s important relationships with other people. This is in addition to statutory factors relating to protecting the child from abuse and other factors appearing in case law. Do you agree with this approach? Should any other factors be listed in the Bill?
  5. Other requirements on the court: Do you agree that the court should ensure that certain decisions are explained to the child? Do you have any views on the provision in the Bill which would require the court to consider the risk to the child’s welfare of any delay in the proceedings?
  6. Vulnerable witnesses: The Bill would prevent a party from personally conducting their case in contact and residence cases and Children’s Hearings in certain circumstances, for example, where the witness is a victim or complainer of domestic abuse. A solicitor could be appointed by the court to represent the party who is prevented from conducting their own case. Do you agree with this approach? The Bill would also allow the court to order the use of other special measures, such as the use of a live TV link or screen, in contact and residence cases. Do you have any views on this provision?
  7. Contact centres: What role should child contact centres play in maintaining contact between children and family members they do not live with? Do you agree with the proposal in the Bill to regulate child contact centres and for there to be a system of independent inspections? The Bill would only require the use of regulated contact centres where referral is made by the court, although the Family Justice Modernisation Strategy suggests solicitors could also be encouraged to refer to regulated centres. Do you agree with this approach? Do you have any views on the practical or resource implications of the regulation of contact centres?
  8. Enforcement of orders: The Bill would require the court to investigate the reasons for a person’s failure to comply with a court’s order relating to, for example, contact. Do you have any views on this approach? Are there any other options which should be included in the Bill to ensure orders are enforced?
  9. Contact with siblings: Do you agree that local authorities should be required to promote contact between a child and any siblings or other people with whom the child has a sibling-like relationship?
  10. Births registered outwith the UK: Do you have any views on the provisions in the Bill that would allow parental rights and responsibilities obtained outwith the UK to be recognised?
  11. Children’s Hearings: Some of the Bill’s provisions, for example, in relation to ensuring that the voice of the child is heard and protecting vulnerable witnesses would apply to Children’s Hearings. The Bill would also make other changes relating to Children’s Hearings, for example, giving the Principal Reporter the right to appeal against a sheriff’s decision in relation to deemed relevant person status. Do you have any views on these changes?
  12. Practical, financial or other impacts of the Bill: Do you have any views on the practical, financial or other impacts, such as the equality impacts, of the Bill?
  13. Family Justice Modernisation Strategy / issues not covered by the Bill: The Family Justice Modernisation Strategy, published alongside the Bill, sets out other actions the Scottish Government intends to take to improve the operation of family justice. It also sets out the reasons why certain areas that were previously consulted on by the Government are not being taken forward. Do you have any views on the actions set out in the Family Justice Modernisation Strategy? Are there issues which are currently not covered by the Bill which you think should be?

Your response does not need to cover all of these areas and you can focus on those that are relevant to you or your organisation. Also, you are welcome to cover other areas in your submission that you think are relevant to the Committee’s consideration of the Bill.

Please note that the Justice Committee does not involve itself in individual cases or complaints. While you may draw on any of your own personal experiences, your submission should focus on issues relating to the Bill. There are a few situations where we may choose not to publish your evidence or have to edit it before publication for practical or legal reasons, including data protection and defamation.

The closing date for receipt of submissions is Friday 15 November 2019. Due to the time required to process and analyse evidence, late submissions will only be accepted with the agreement of the clerk.

We welcome written views in English, Gaelic, Scots or any other language. If possible, we would be grateful if you could keep your submission to a maximum of 4-6 sides of A4.

Please send your submission by email to [email protected].

You can also send a hard copy of your submission to:

Justice Committee
Scottish Parliament
Holyrood
Edinburgh
EH99 1SP

Next steps

The Committee expects to begin taking oral evidence on the Bill in November-December 2019.

Contact

If you have any questions relating to this call for views or the Committee’s scrutiny of the Bill, please email [email protected] or contact Gael Scott, Senior Assistant Clerk, on 0131 348 5047.   

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