Bill backed to improve children’s role in family legal system

The Children (Scotland) Bill passed its first stage unanimously at Holyrood on Wednesday.

Bill backed to improve children’s role in family legal system Getty Images

MSPs have backed a Bill aimed at improving the experience of children in the family legal system.

The Children (Scotland) Bill passed its first stage unanimously in Holyrood on Wednesday.

It proposes to give the views of children more weight in family disputes, as well as protecting victims of domestic abuse and their children, ensuring the best interests of the young person is at the heart of proceedings and achieving “further compliance” with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The legislation removes a provision in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 that states children over the age of 12 are able to form a view in family proceedings, meaning those who are younger will have meaningful input.

Regulation of contact centres and children’s reporters is also boosted in the legislation.

The Bill was supported by the Justice Committee in a report, before the first stage went to the chamber.

It urged the Scottish Government to make sure that changes will be fully resourced.

Speaking in the chamber, community safety minister Ash Denham said: “During the consultation and development of this Bill, in the voice of young people a theme came through very strongly and it was ‘no-one is listening to me and no-one is listening to what I want’.

“This Bill aims to change that.”

Denham told fellow MSPs that implementation of the Bill, if passed, will take place “as quickly as possible”, although some aspects – such as changes to children’s reporters – may take longer than others.

Margaret Mitchell, the convener of the Justice Committee, said it had “great pleasure” in supporting the Bill at stage one.

Scottish Conservative MSP Liam Kerr, along with Labour MSP Neil Findlay, took issue with the use of the word “practicable” in a passage about the lengths to which local authorities should go to ensure siblings who have been taken into care can continue personal relationships.

The minister pledged to meet both MSPs to discuss the use of the word in the Bill.

Both Labour MSP James Kelly and Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur urged the Scottish Government to ensure enough resources are made available to enact the Bill.

Kelly said: “We need to ensure that the legislation is amended to give proper protections to the child, to give clarity in the legal setting, but we also need to make sure that there’s appropriate funding and infrastructure in place if we’re really serious about achieving the ambitions that this legislation sets out to try and achieve.”

McArthur said: “Simply passing into law rights and duties may make us feel good as legislators but doing so without the necessary funding does a disservice to those whose interests we seek to protect and those working on the frontline, who we will be setting up to fail.”

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