Effects of the Children (Scotland) Act 2020

A group of children holding hands walking in the park

What changes will the Children (Scotland) Act 2020 make for children and young people? 

The Children (Scotland) Act 2020 was passed by the Scottish Parliament in August 2020. The changes have not yet been brought into force to give the Government, Local Authority Courts and Children’s Hearings time to prepare for the changes before they have to start delivering them. 

The new Act covers lots of different things. It:

  • brings the law into line with children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) to ensure that children’s views are heard in family court cases and that the best interests of the children are at the centre of these cases; and 
  • gives more protection to victims of domestic abuse and their children. 

The main changes for children and young people are:

Children and young people will have more opportunity to give their views to court

The courts will have to take the starting point that all children are capable of giving their views no matter how old they are. All children who want to give their views must be given the chance to do so and in a way that they prefer, whether that is speaking to the Judge or other means of setting out their views. 

At the moment, there is a presumption that a child aged 12 and over is mature enough to give an opinion, however, by changing the law there is a clear signal that children of all ages have a right to be heard. Once they have been heard then the person making the decision has to take account of those views and also their age and maturity. 

Courts will explain their decisions to children

When a Judge or a Sheriff makes a decision as to where a child is to live (residence) or time that they have to spend with the other parent (contact), that decision has to be explained to the child in a way that they can understand. 

Every decision doesn’t have to be explained to the child, only major decisions like ones on living and contact arrangements 

Children will have support advocacy workers in family court actions

Advocacy workers will support and represent children when courts are deciding for example where they should live and what contact they should have with the other parent. This will take time to put in place that the Scottish Government now must start setting up these services for children who are giving their views to the court. 

Measures to keep children safe in contact centres

Child Contact Centres are places where children, parents and other people in children’s lives can meet. Contact Centres will have to follow rules which will be put in place. 

Other Matters 

  • Local authorities will have a legal duty to support, care experienced brothers and sisters relationship when they aren’t able to live together; 
  • A register of Child Welfare Reporters (who give a report to the court about a family situation) and Curator ad litems (who can be appointed by the court to represent a child’s interest) is to be set up and rules on how Child Welfare Reporters and Curator ad litems should carry out their duties;
  • Courts will also have to investigate the reason that contact arrangements are not working and give the child an opportunity of giving their views; 
  • Other changes include rules to avoid legal proceedings taking too long where this would affect a child’s welfare and new measures to assist vulnerable witnesses and parties in court actions. 

More information

WJM Partner Tom Quail is here to help with any of your queries about the Children (Scotland) Act 2020, or other family law matters. Get in touch on 0141 248 3434 or email tlq@wjm.co.uk

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