Siblings of children referred to the children's hearings system can expect to be given greater rights to participate in hearings, under amendments to the Children (Scotland) Bill tabled by the Scottish Government for next week's stage 3 debate.
Under the amendments, certain individuals who do not meet the test for participating as "relevant persons" would be able to take part if they meet certain criteria to be prescribed in rules. Community Safety Minister Ash Denham indicated at stage 2 of the bill that the Government would honour the promise of the Independent care review that brothers and sisters would have the necessary legal rights for their voice to be heard, and it can be expected that they will be among those who can meet those criteria.
Qualifying individuals would have the right to be notified of a hearing, the right to provide a report or other document to the hearing, the right to be provided with documents specified in procedural rules, authorisation to attend the hearing, and the right to be represented at the hearing. They could also require review of a compulsory supervision order (CSO) after three months.
Children's rights organisation Clan Childlaw, which has called for siblings to be given participation rights having failed to achieve this through the Supreme Court appeals by ABC and XY, said it supported the amendments. "The amendments contain all of our essentials, with the exception of appeal rights", it commented.
"In our view the right of appeal is fundamental to allowing full participation by siblings and avoids reliance on judicial review to remedy any technical, procedural issue, which is a slow, cumbersome process unsuitable as a means to remedy the decision of a children’s hearing.
"However, if the amendments proposed are passed, the changes to the current legislation would significantly improve the ability of brothers and sisters to participate in children’s hearing for one another. Clan Childlaw supports the amendments lodged."
It added: "The system should then be kept under review, and the right to appeal considered as part of the work to implement the Independent Care Review’s Promise to ensure siblings have legal protections including meaningful participation in decision-making about their siblings and clear, simple rights to appeal."
The stage 3 proceedings are scheduled for Tuesday 25 August.