After section 17

Part of Family Law (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:22 pm on 15th December 2005.

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Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 3:22 pm, 15th December 2005

Amendment 15 removes section 17B, which was inserted into the bill by an amendment from Sylvia Jackson at stage 2. Section 17B seeks to compel the courts, when making or varying a contact order, to attach to it a notice warning of the consequences of failing to comply with the contact order.

I understand what drove Sylvia Jackson to lodge her stage 2 amendment and what was behind some of the other issues that she raised at that stage. Indeed, both Sylvia Jackson and Pauline McNeill have been diligent in pressing an issue of genuine injustice at times when one parent is denied access to their children. As a parent myself, I could not begin to imagine what it would be like not to have access to my child, despite having a court order to support me. Pauline McNeill was absolutely right to outline some of the implications, of both cost and the significant time that it takes to resolve such issues.

I sympathise with what Sylvia Jackson attempted to achieve to improve the quality of contact between children and their separated parents. However, section 17B as constructed could be unhelpful. It could be unduly intimidating to warn parents, before either of them had done anything wrong, of the consequence of non-compliance. At worst, it could encourage one parent to seek opportunities to threaten the other with consequences, for even the slightest breach. Our main motivation for lodging amendment 15 was the unintended consequences of section 17B. If it achieved simply what Sylvia Jackson was seeking to achieve, we might have been able to live with it. Unfortunately, it affects each party differently. The resident parent could face harsher consequences than the non-resident parent. Having listened and spoken to Sylvia Jackson, I do not think that she intended that.