New laws to make family court process more child friendly
New laws to make family court proceedings in Scotland more child-friendly have been passed by the Scottish Parliament.
The Children (Scotland) Bill will require all children’s views to be heard and taken account of in family cases, subject to limited exceptions, removing the presumption that only children over 12 are mature enough to be heard.
The court should also aim to use a child’s preferred method of giving their views and explain decisions in ways the child can understand.
Child contact centres will have to meet minimum criteria, such as accommodation and staff training standards, and child welfare reporters must be on a newly established register, before either can be appointed by the court.
The bill also places a duty on local authorities to consider how to maintain contact between brothers and sisters should they become looked after outside the family home, and introduces a new participation scheme for siblings affected by children’s hearing proceedings.
Community safety minister Ash Denham said: “The first-hand accounts I’ve heard from children of their experiences in the family court process have been deeply touching. This is why the radical changes in this bill are so important.
“It is vital that in every case the best interests of the child remain paramount. We also need to ensure that all children are given the opportunity to have their views heard.
“This bill will make sure important decisions are communicated in ways children can understand and bring greater consistency in the way our young people are treated across Scotland.
“Our work on improving the family courts is far from complete. There is much still left to do and we will do that as quickly as we can in the current circumstances.
“I am very grateful to all the stakeholders and individuals especially the children and young people who have taken time to write to me and to participate in discussions on reforming the family courts.”
The bill also attracted support from children’s charity, Children 1st.
Chief executive Mary Glasgow said: “Today, the Scottish parliament has made a fundamental commitment to children that their voices will be heard in our justice system. The Children (Scotland) Bill will kick-start a much-needed transformation in the treatment of children and families by Scotland’s civil courts.
“We look forward to working with the Scottish government, civil courts and our partners, Scottish Women’s Aid, to put it into practice. These significant changes must also mark the start of a broader shift to further advance children’s participation rights in the criminal justice system and the children’s hearings.”