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Opinion: Care and Justice vote endorses hearings system

kirsty nelson

By Kirsty Nelson, Practice and Policy Advisor

The passing of the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament shows strong backing for the Children’s Hearings System and the support it has to offer children and young people in Scotland.

Hearings available to all under-18s

The main change affecting CHS and our Panel Members is that 16- and 17-year-olds will be able to be referred to a hearing, without any previous involvement in the system. The Bill goes some way to fulfilling Scotland’s duties under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that everyone below the age of 18 is a child. Currently, in both a welfare and justice context, there is a disparity in how we treat 16- and 17-year-olds, who can only access the support of the hearings system if they were referred before they turned 16.

In addition, there will be stronger referral arrangements between courts and hearings, and certain changes to legislative language will make the hearings system more accessible and understandable.  CHS is pleased to see that more children and young people will be able to access an age-appropriate and trauma-informed system that focuses on addressing their needs.

Building on Kilbrandon principles

In a justice context, the Bill will achieve further protections for those aged 16 and 17. No young person under the age of 18 will be placed in a Young Offenders Institution or prosecuted in the criminal justice system unless on the instructions of the Lord Advocate. Additionally, more safeguards will be put in place to protect under-18s in custody and in criminal proceedings. Accordingly, the Bill develops the Scottish Government’s work to Keep The Promise – ensuring that Scotland develops a more progressive, rights-based youth justice approach which builds on the Kilbrandon principles on which the hearings system is based: that the focus of a hearing is on the needs of the child, and not their deeds.

Support for welfare-based approach

During the debate in Parliament last week, we were pleased to see a number of Members of the Scottish Parliament expressing their understanding of the ethos of the hearings system and their support for the welfare-based, non-punitive approach that we have in Scotland.

Natalie Don, Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise, said: “The Bill will enable children of all ages to be referred to the Principal Reporter so that they can access the protective framework of the hearings system. Despite a youth justice emphasis dominating our discussions on the Bill, we must emphasise that most children who need compulsory care do so due to welfare reasons, rather than for offending.

“The integrated, welfare-based, Kilbrandon ethos of our Children’s Hearings System is something that Scotland can rightly take pride in. All children – whether in need, at risk or in trouble – deserve our concern and support, and this Bill will help ensure that they get it.”

Further reading

Scottish Government news on the passing of the Bill at Stage 3

Scottish Government information on the Bill