Family court proceedings in Scotland will be more child friendly after The Children (Scotland) Bill is given Royal Assent.
In family cases, subject to extremely limited exceptions, all children’s views will have to be heard and taken into account, removing the presumption that only children aged older than 12 years old are mature enough to have their views taken into account.
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,” he added.
Under the new measures, the court should also, where practicable, use the child’s preferred method of giving their views and explain decisions to children in ways they 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 sibling contact and how it will be maintained should a child become looked after outside the family home. Furthermore, it introduces a new participation scheme for siblings affected by children’s hearing proceedings.
Ash Denham continued: “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.
Mary Glasgow, Chief Executive of Children 1st, Scotland’s national children’s charity, 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,” she concluded.
The Children (Scotland) Bill will come into force after Royal Assent is given.