Wider implications of named person law

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The forthcoming judicial review (Opponents queue up to attack ‘monstrous intrusion into family’, your report, 7 June) of the named person law heralds a landmark judgment regarding the power of the state over the family.

Increasingly, across Britain, the different jurisdictions are creating new legal definitions of what the perfect child and family should look like. These definitions are becoming so narrow that even the scope for different styles of parenting are being more and more limited. Just last week a new criminal offence of inflicting “emotional harm”, which will be impossible to police fairly, was announced in the Queen’s speech. But Scotland has clearly led the way with intrusive policy by assigning every a child a named person to look after their interests.

There are two key powers that come with the named person. First is the power to collect any amount of sensitive and personal information about a child for the widest possible reason.

This power had already been curbed by the landmark 2013 “Haringey Judgment”, which found that child protection services cannot act without the explicit consent of the parents unless there is actual evidence of a child being at risk. Arguably, Scotland should have incorporated this judgment into the power of the named person.

The second key power of the proposed named person law is that parents cannot opt out of having a named person. Outside of the security services, all engagement with state officials is strictly “opt in” unless there is evidence that a law has been broken. Legally, parents can even refuse the services of a health visitor if they so wish.

The major issue that will arise from the judicial review of the named person is the threshold, or line in the sand, at which parents can legally refuse to engage with an official from the state.

If the outcome of the judicial review is that there is no such threshold, then campaigners and parents will have to concede that, in family matters, the state has ultimate sway over a child’s wellbeing and the parents’ decisions count for nothing. It is hard to see how Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the “right to respect for private and family life” supports that concept.

Britain promotes itself internationally as a country with an impeccable human rights policy. Within that context, all eyes will be on the Scottish courts this summer as the role of the state in family matters is determined – not just for Scotland, but also for the rest of Britain.

Tristram C Llewellyn Jones

Church Road
Ramsey, Isle of Man

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