After section 17

Part of Family Law (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 15th December 2005.

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Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace Liberal Democrat 3:30 pm, 15th December 2005

I will keep this brief. I want to underline the concerns that Pauline McNeill and Sylvia Jackson have reflected in the debate and in committee. During my time as a member of Parliament and then a member of the Scottish Parliament, I recall a number of occasions on which a parent, usually a father, came to me to express concern that access to his children was being withheld and that the court proceedings were dragging on and on.

That in itself can change the dynamic. If a child has not seen his or her father—it is usually the father—for a number of months because the court has not had a hearing or taken action, that can change the outcome. The court might decide later that the circumstances have changed so much that it will not enforce an order. That is why I believe that speed is of the essence in dealing with these matters.

I welcome what Hugh Henry said about legal aid. I have seen cases where a father or mother has been frustrated in pursuing a legitimate interest in getting contact, simply because they cannot afford their costs, because the other party is going back to court time and again.

In welcoming the steps that Hugh Henry has taken, I ask that the situation be monitored carefully and that the Executive be prepared to come back to the Parliament with proposals for different action if the pilot that he is proposing shows that there is a problem that is not being addressed adequately in existing law.