Children (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th May 2020.

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Photo of Bob Doris Bob Doris Scottish National Party

I thank Mr Findlay for putting that situation on the record. I absolutely agree with him.

I know that time is tight, Presiding Officer, but I want to get some more testimony on the record this afternoon.

When Elle’s child was unwell, the sheriff would not accept general practitioner evidence that that was the case. The GP would have to take the stand for it to be accepted, but that was not possible. Elle was fined £1,000 and some of the money went to her ex-partner as compensation. When Elle was ill and in hospital following the birth of her new baby, who is a joy in the new life that she is getting on with, she asked her grandmother to take her child to the contact centre. Elle was named on the court order to take the child there, and her ex-partner threatened her again with contempt of court. Only by changing her lawyer with 24 hours’ notice of appearing in court did Elle get it dropped. She was threatened with jail by an abusive ex-partner.

The reason I am saying this is because the people who are making the case for section 16 to be removed are simply wrong. There are many reasons for a failure to obey an order, and courts do not always have time to consider them. Section 16 must stay; it must be central to the bill’s provisions. If it has to be amended, let us do that, but it must stay.

Section 16 will protect people like my constituent Elle, and it will also protect non-resident parents. As members have said, some people will play the system—let us be honest about it. Courts—I mean here sheriffs and lawyers—quite frankly do not always look at all the reports or read all the paperwork, perhaps because of time constraints. Having that brake on the system to inquire about why contact has not taken place is vitally important, rather than threatening an abused woman—a victim—with jail for trying to protect her child. I am putting that on record here this afternoon.

I have asked for a couple of amendments to the bill. I want the legislation to be clear about the role of reports from contact centres that go to the sheriff and the weight that the sheriff should place on them. Without regulation, details and consistency, I think that they have undue influence on sheriffs and I do not think that that is acceptable.