As a basic premise children and young people are the most valuable, and the most vulnerable, group in our society. They deserve the most robust measures of protection. Vulnerable children and young people need support and advice on how to deal with problems in their lives. The Children’s Hearing system is there to offer support and is a system of justice that aims to protect children and young people from the risk of harm and neglect. The system takes into account all the circumstances to decide the best course of action for a child’s welfare and best interests.
The process involves children being referred to the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration. Referrals are made by organisations like the police, social work departments and education authorities. Children’s Reporters decide whether there are legal “grounds” for referral to a hearing. If so, a hearing will be arranged. The list of grounds are set out in section 67(2) of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011.
The Children’s panel is made up of lay members. A panel consists of three panel members, one of whom chairs the hearing. The child whose welfare is being considered may be present at a hearing unless the panel decides to excuse the child from attending. Also present at the hearing are the Reporter and a social worker. Relevant persons can also be present. A relevant person is defined in Section 81(3) of the 2011 Act as someone who “has (or recently had) a significant involvement in the upbringing of the child”. A safeguarder, if appointed by the panel, can also be present at a hearing. A safeguarder is someone who protects the interests of the child. Legal aid for representation at a hearing was introduced by the 2011 Act. That Act enabled the provision of legal aid to children, parents and other relevant persons. Since then, more solicitors have been present at hearings.
The child and any relevant persons must accept, or at least partially accept, the grounds of referral for the hearing to proceed. The hearing can discharge the referral or ask the Reporter to apply to a Sheriff to investigate whether the grounds of referral have been fully established.
When making a decision the welfare of the child is paramount. A number of different outcomes are possible to the panel:
- that compulsory supervision measures are not required and discharge the case;
- that more information is needed in order to decide what is best for the child and defer the hearing to a later date; and
- that compulsory measures of supervision are needed to help the child and that a compulsory supervision order is necessary. This will have measures attached to it which can include where the child is to live, for example with foster carers or a relative, or who the child should see, and when.
A child or relevant person has the right to appeal the panel’s decision to a Sheriff, as does the child’s safeguarder. The appeal must be lodged within 21 days, beginning from the date of the panel’s decision. The appeal will be allowed if the Sheriff is satisfied that the panel’s decision is “not justified in all the circumstances of the case” [W v Schaffer, 2001 S.L.T (Sch Ct) 68].
We have solicitors in our Dalkeith and Dunfermline offices who would be very happy to assist if you have dealings with the Children’s Hearings System.
The Drummond Miller Family Law Team is extremely experienced in dealing with all aspects of Family Law including divorce and separation and issues regarding contact and residence of children. If you would like further information and advice please get in touch with our experienced Solicitors in Edinburgh, Dalkeith, Dunfermline, Musselburgh and Bathgate.