The Scottish Government has published (3 September) and introduced new legislation in the Parliament that aims to modernise family justice, ensuring children’s best interests are at the centre of every family law case and that children’s views are heard by the court.
The Children (Scotland) Bill is designed to further strengthen the family law system and follows a consultation which took into account the views and ideas of children and young people. The proposals are intended to update the 1995 Children Act, to reflect changes within modern families.
Proposals include regulation of child contact centres to ensure they are safe spaces for children to meet family members; special measures such as screens and live video links in Child Welfare Hearings; and prohibiting a party from conducting their own case if there is a vulnerable witness.
Child welfare reporters, who may be appointed when the court has been asked to resolve a dispute between parents, will also be regulated to ensure reporters are trained to understand and respond to issues such as domestic abuse and coercive control.
Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said:
“We know that family breakdown can be very upsetting for children. It is our responsibility to ensure the family justice system is supportive and does not contribute to their distress. That means putting the best interests of the child first in every case and ensuring their voice is heard, including younger children.
“Children’s welfare is paramount and we have been guided by their views and experiences in developing this bill. More than half of responses to the consultation came via our child-friendly questionnaire.”