The rights of children in Scotland should be strengthened to ensure their views are heard.
In response to a Scottish Government review, the Law Society of Scotland has urged that the current child-centred approach is retained and that further steps are taken to improve the law in relation to children, including clarifying contact rights of siblings and ensuring that contact centres are properly funded and regulated.
The review is seeking views on part one of the Children (Scotland) Act and on the creation of a strategy to modernise the law around families. The current legislation sets out the rights and responsibilities of parents and the duties and powers available to public authorities in supporting children and families as well as any action they can take to intervene in a child’s best interest.
Morag Driscoll, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Family Law Committee, said: “Scotland’s Children’s Act is more than 20 years old and it’s right that there is a review at this stage. Families themselves and the way we view children and their rights have changed over the past two decades and it would be helpful for our legislation to reflect those changes.
“Our current law already takes a child-centred approach and the review presents an opportunity to strengthen this and ensure that children’s rights are being respected and implemented in practice. We need to ensure that a child’s viewpoint can continue to be heard and is taken into account in decision making. It will be important to maintain a range of options that takes account of the child’s needs and circumstances in any particular case and which would allow the child to either speak directly to the judge or sheriff in court or via their welfare reporter or support worker in a less intimidating environment.”
The Law Society has also said the review will help to identity inconsistencies in the law and provide clarification.
Ms Driscoll said: “There is room for improvement. For example, we think there is a real need to clarify whether siblings, including those under 16, can apply for contact with a child. The current controversy as to whether siblings can even apply is because a contact order relates only to parental rights and responsibilities. It is a major deficit in our system and amending the current legislation to expressly allow siblings to apply for contact would be a significant improvement.
The Law Society has also called for the regulation of contact centres and that they are properly funded.
Ms Driscoll said: “People at contact centres are regularly required to work with vulnerable children and often handle challenging circumstances. It is appropriate that there should be some level of regulation, while recognising that the centres rely on volunteers to support them. We also need to ensure that there is adequate funding to ensure that contact centres are safe, clean and well run.”
To read the Law Society’s full response see our website. Review of Part 1 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and creation of a family justice modernisation strategy