Scottish Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP has today won amendments to the Children (Scotland) Bill, strengthening the voice of children during court processes and bringing the legislation closer in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Following Mr McArthur’s contribution to the Stage 2 debate, the bill was amended to include an overarching duty to ensure access to child advocacy services in court cases where the child’s custody is being considered. Mr McArthur also secured an amendment to close a loophole that previously meant that intimate and highly sensitive information was being drawn into court proceedings without regard to the child’s best interests, and in some instances without the child even becoming aware.
Commenting, Mr McArthur said:
“Far too often, life changing decisions are being made without involving the child in any meaningful way. The system effectively excludes the person who is perhaps most directly and profoundly affected.
“Currently, decisions about what information should be shared within any court proceedings can be taken without considering the child’s best interests or even making them aware it is happening. That can undermine trust and confidence, particularly where a child has confided in a third sector organisation information that is intimate and highly sensitive. Thankfully, that loophole has now been closed.
“In addition, I am pleased the bill now recognises the need for a system wide responsibility to ensure that child advocacy is available when custody is being decided. This is a service that should already be available, and is key to allowing the child’s voice to be heard. Now that right should be in no doubt.
“This Bill is intended to bring Scots law more in line with the UNCRC. As originally drafted, however, it fell short of that aim. I’m grateful to colleagues on the Justice Committee for recognising that, and bringing us one step closer to compliance.”
A spokesperson for Scottish Women’s Aid and Children 1st commented:
"We are delighted that these important amendments have passed, strengthening the Bill’s provisions regarding children’s rights and protection for survivors of domestic abuse.
“We know from the children and young people we work alongside how much of a difference these amendments will make to the lives of children and young people in Scotland, particularly those experiencing domestic abuse.
“We thank Liam McArthur for progressing these issues, and we look forward to further strengthening of the Bill at Stage 3."