Ruth Maguire MSP has welcomed the passing of legislation which makes radical changes to family court proceedings more child friendly.
The Children (Scotland) Bill will require all children’s views will have to be heard and taken into account in family cases, subject to extremely limited exceptions. The presumption that only children aged 12 and over are old enough to be heard has been removed.
Courts should now also, where practicable, use a child’s preferred method of giving their views and explain decisions to children in ways they can understand.
Ms Maguire said: “The Children Bill is one of many ways we can empower children from an early age to have a full say in aspects of their lives via family courts.
“Separations between parents can be upsetting for children and also poses a significant change to their lives, it’s only right that their views should be taken into consideration in court proceedings where appropriate.
“The Bill also affirms the Scottish Government’s commitment to fully implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by next year. Upholding the rights of children at this time is as important as ever.”
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.
“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.
“I am very grateful to all the stakeholders and individuals especially the children and young people who have taken time to write to me and to participate in discussions on reforming the family courts.”
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.”