Previously in Scotland, under s.16 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1985 the Sheriff, when determining an order in relation to a child, was expected to consider the views of the child taking into account their age and maturity. A child of twelve years of age or more was deemed to have sufficient age and maturity under the act to express their views.
The Children (Scotland) Bill proposes significant change to the law in relation to taking into account the views of the child in Court proceedings. The introduction of the Children (Scotland) Bill intends to make family court proceedings more child-friendly and encourage the views of the child to be taken into account at all stages of the Court process, regardless of their age. Under the terms of the bill, the presumption that only children over the age of 12 have sufficient age and maturity to express a view will no longer apply. Instead, the views of all children will require to be obtained and considered in relation to family cases, where possible. The presumption will now be that all children are capable of providing their views unless it can be proven otherwise.
The Bill also provides that all child contact centres will have to meet certain standards in terms of staff training and the facilities provided. Child Welfare Reporters will now also require to be registered on a new register before the Courts are able to appoint them to a case relating to a child. Children involved in Court proceedings or the Children’s Hearings will now have the chance to decide the way in which they wish to express their views. This may be by way of speaking to the Sheriff directly, speaking to a Child Welfare Reporter, drawing a picture, writing a letter or sending a video etc.
The Courts will be obliged to explain their decisions to a child in a way which they understand when making an order which will affect where and who they reside with or the arrangements in respect of contact, for example, with the non-resident parent.
The Bill will help to ensure that the best interests of each child remains the paramount concern of the Courts when determining whether to grant an order in respect of a child.