Children's Hearings System

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 7 February 2002.

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Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 2:30, 7 February 2002

To ask the Scottish Executive what action it is taking to ensure that the children's hearings system complies with the European convention on human rights. (S1O-4642)

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

The principal challenge under the ECHR to the children's hearings system has been the S case. The judgment in that case found that the children's hearings system complies with the ECHR, but that the absence of a scheme for considering publicly funded legal representation could breach some children's civil rights under article 6. On 23 February, we will introduce through subordinate legislation an interim scheme for legal representation in children's hearings in appropriate cases.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour

Does the minister share my concern about the recent media coverage of children's hearings? Does she agree that the service is excellent? What can be done to ensure that young children do not slip through the net?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I recognise the valuable role that the children's hearings system plays. I have had meetings with relevant people to consider how we can value the work of children's panel members, who give up their time to take on a difficult task, and to ensure that we recruit an adequate number of panel members for the future. I am aware of some of the media coverage today, particularly that on ensuring that the supervision requirements that the hearings system imposes are performed. I take that matter seriously and will address it in coming weeks.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Does the minister accept that the biggest threat to the human rights of children who appear before a panel is the lack of social workers to perform the supervision and investigation requirements? Will she elaborate a little on the activities that she has undertaken to try to resolve the problem, particularly in Glasgow, where there could be a major crisis?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I am perhaps more aware than most of the valuable work of social workers who work with very vulnerable children. I am trying to get a picture of the whole of Scotland. I am aware of the circumstances in Glasgow. I have had discussions with the social work services inspectorate and I know that Glasgow City Council is attempting to fill the gaps by recruiting additional social workers. That is linked to work that we need to do on a strategy for social work training. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, although I assure the member that the matter will progress in due course.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

Has the requirement to consider placing 16 and 17-year-olds under the supervision of the children's panel anything to do with the ECHR? If so, what consideration has the minister given to extending penalty ranges and, ultimately, enforcement of any orders that children's panels issue?

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

Phil Gallie is probably aware that a wide range of disposals is available in the children's hearings system. A children's panel can write conditions into supervision requirement orders. Accountability is provided for because local authorities must bring children and young people back at the appropriate time. My colleagues in the justice department and I will examine carefully the proposed pilots for involving 16 and 17-year-old offenders in the hearings system. In due course, we will report on progress with that.