Referrals and appeals from children's hearings to the sheriff are the subject of a new practice note by the Sheriff Principal of Lothian & Borders, Mhairi Stephen QC.
The practice note (No 2 of 2018) seeks to ensure the efficient management and disposal of proof applications by the children’s reporter, applications to extend or vary interim compulsory supervision orders, and appeals against decisions of the children’s hearing.
It begins by setting out that it is "vital, in the interests of the child" that proceedings are "conducted fairly and concluded efficiently and expeditiously with the minimum of delay. This requires the accurate estimation and allocation of hearings, the reduction of repeated appearances and the elimination of unnecessary or repetitive evidence at hearings". It also requires "the cooperation of all concerned and active and firm case management by the sheriff court throughout their course".
The practice note goes on to set out measures to achieve these objectives, including organisation of court business, lodging of applications, matters to be addressed at the first hearing, holding of case management and pre-proof hearings in complex cases along with the use of expert evidence.
It applies to all applications lodged or proceedings commenced on or after 24 September 2018 and revokes any previous practice notes which regulate the conduct of children’s referral proceedings.