There has been an interesting little political spat this week over reforms to the children's hearing system.
Draft Scottish Government regulations extending funded legal representation to parents involved in children's hearings if that is necessary for them "to effectively participate", were defeated in committee but passed by a small majority in the full Parliament.
The regulations are essentially aimed at those with limited linguistic or literary skills, though as members pointed out, the phrasing is widely drawn.
Opposition, taken up by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, was based on objections from panel chairs and members that the move would alter the traditionally non-adversarial nature of the hearings, and make them less child-centred. The Government position was that the measure was necessary to ensure compliance with the Human Rights Convention. This was supported "with reluctance" by the Conservatives, having taken their own advice, while criticising the Government for a lack of information.
Leaving aside the merits of the proposal (and the timing, which is unfortunate when the Government has postponed the bill on the wider future of the hearings until next year, to allow further consideration), it seems hardly satisfactory that MSPs are being asked to make a decision on a point with clear human rights implications, apparently without a clear picture of what the law actually requires.
It was said in the parliamentary debate that the Government is acting on the acting on the basis of a concession in a Court of Session action in which judgment has still to be given. What happened was that it made the regulations in June, immediately following the court hearing, and the Parliament only now (following the summer recess) has the opportunity to debate them – yet in that time no one has managed to make available proper reasons for proceeding one way or the other.
It is not an episode that shows the lawmaking process in a good light. You might have thought also that there should be a role for our new Scottish Human Rights Commission in there somewhere.
MSPs (and MPs too) are sometimes accused of passing legislation they don't understand. Perhaps it is not always their fault.