A new Bill to strengthen children's rights is to be brought to Holyrood, the Scottish Government has announced today.
The Children (Scotland) Bill was revealed just hours before the First Minister unveils her Programme for Government, which is expected to include 14 new pieces of legislation.
According to the government, the new legislation will aim to "ensure that children’s best interests are at the centre of every family law case and that children’s views are heard by the court".
The Bill has been announced a year after the government launched a review on Part 1 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. A total of 550 consultation responses were received, including 300 to the child friendly questionnaire.
The Scottish Government also met children and young people through Scottish Women’s Aid, the Scottish Youth Parliament and youth centres, while the Children’s Parliament also engaged with children on behalf of the Government to explore their views and ideas on themes raised in the consultation.
As a result, a Bill will now be brought forward which will include proposals to regulate child contact centres to ensure they are safe places for children to meet family members, as well as child welfare reporters, who can be appointed by courts to resolve a dispute between parents.
The changes aim to ensure reporters are trained to understand and respond to issues such as domestic abuse and coercive control.
Other proposals for supporting domestic abuse victims and their children include allowing special measures such as screens and a live video links to be used in Child Welfare Hearings, and prohibiting a party from conducting their own case if there is a vulnerable witness.
Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “We know that family breakdown can be very upsetting for children. It is our responsibility to ensure the family justice system is supportive and does not contribute to their distress. That means putting the best interests of the child first in every case and ensuring their voice is heard, including younger children.
“Children’s welfare is paramount and we have been guided by their views and experiences in developing this bill. More than half of responses to the consultation came via our child-friendly questionnaire.”
The government has also published A Family Justice Modernisation Strategy which sets out additional work to improve the operation of family justice through secondary legislation, enhanced guidance and longer term work.