The bill is extremely important and I will be happy to agree to the bill’s general principles at decision time.
The bill is important on many levels, but, for me, the one overriding reason for it is that it will, finally, give children a voice within a justice system that has, historically, been structured for adults. All children should be able to give their views on decisions that affect them and their future. There is a lot of detail in the bill that will affect many areas of children’s lives.
As deputy convener of the committee, I thank the clerks and the drafting team for their invaluable help. Their attention to detail and their hard work have allowed the committee to agree to the general principles in a largely non-contentious way. I also thank all the witnesses who gave of their time to give us excellent evidence, either in person or by written submission.
The policy aims of the bill are to ensure that the views of the child are heard in contact and residence cases, to further protect victims of domestic abuse and their children, to ensure that the best interests of the child are considered in contact and residence cases, and to ensure compliance with the UNCRC in family court cases.
A hugely important part of the bill, and one that is widely supported, is the removal of the existing presumption in the 1995 act that only a child who is 12 or over is of sufficient age and maturity to form a view. We heard consistently that that presumption has meant that the views of younger children who are perfectly able to express their views are not routinely heard, in practice. As Megan Farr from the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland said:
“Children’s views do not miraculously change the minute that they turn 12, but their capacity to express their views evolves over time from birth.”—[
, 17 December 2019; c 10.]