26 May 2020

Scottish Labour welcomes the principles of the Children (Scotland) Bill, but is calling for key issues to be addressed and tightened as Stage 1 is debated today.

The Bill seeks to make significant reforms to the 1995 Children’s Act, by bringing it in line with the UN Convention on the rights of the child in cases of parental disagreements and disputes about their children. It will be the first major reform to the 1995 legislation since 2006.

The Children (Scotland) Bill, if passed, will remove the existing presumption that a child over the age of 12 is old enough and mature enough to express a view and have it taken into consideration by a court. Instead, the new legislation would remove the minimum age limit and replace it with a ‘capacity exception’, meaning any child can be considered competent and can be heard, unless they are considered incapable of forming a view.

Scottish Labour is concerned that this does not go far enough. There is a concern that, as drafted, simply removing the presumption of competency could mean more children would fall into the capacity exception criteria, meaning fewer will have their view considered. To counter this, the legislation could be strengthened to include a specific requirement that the court ensure a child, regardless of their age, has an opportunity to express their views. Provision could also be made for a child to refuse to make their view known so that they are not placed under pressure to make what may feel like a decision or a choice.

The Bill also addresses the need for regulation of child contact centres. In its current form, the Scottish Government would be given the power to set minimum standards for these spaces, and a body would be appointed to oversee and report on them. While Scottish Labour welcomes this, there have been a number of concerns that contact centres do not have sufficient funds to meet the additional costs this may bring. This also raises questions about the long-term funding sustainability for these centres.

Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson, James Kelly, said:

“The main principles of this legislation are a move in the right direction, and Scottish Labour seeks only to strengthen the Bill and the protections it offers children.

“Removing the minimum age limit is welcome, but there must be safeguards in place to make the court process fairer – and to ensure no child is wrongly deemed incapable of speaking on their own behalf.

“It is also vital that the Bill sets out how the costs of regulating child contact centres will be met, as this cannot fall solely at the feet of the centres themselves.

“Scottish Labour will continue to push for the tightening of this Bill, to make sure no child is disadvantaged if parental disagreements are heard in courts.”
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