In Scotland, we have a unique system of dealing with the cases of children who are felt to be in need of compulsory measures of care (i.e. Social Work Department intervention), whether this is due to issues relating to the care which is said to be provided to the child, or because the child is alleged to have committed a criminal offence or offences. The Reporter to the Children’s Hearing can, in these circumstances, convene a Children’s Hearing to consider the case of the child if the Reporter believes that a ground or grounds exist to refer the child to a Children’s Hearing, with these grounds at present being set out in the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011. Although Children’s Hearings are intended to be informal and are made up of people with no legal background, complicated factual and legal issues can (and regularly do) arise, and decisions with very far-reaching consequences for children and their families can be made at these hearings. For these reasons, it is essential that parents (and, in appropriate cases, the child) obtain proper and informed advice from an experienced Solicitor, both prior to the hearing itself and thereafter. Appeals against decisions of the Children’s Hearing are taken to the Sheriff Court, and advice and, if appropriate, representation can be made available, according to circumstances. However, as with all appeals, strict time limits apply to challenging a decision of the Children’s Hearing and contact with a Solicitor as soon as possible after the decision in question is essential, as ‘late’ appeals simply cannot be taken forward.
REFERRALS FROM THE CHILDREN’S HEARING TO THE SHERIFF COURT
A referral from the Children’s Hearing to the Sheriff Court is made when there are matters of fact and/or law in dispute between the position of the parents of a child or children (and/or the child or children themselves) and that of the Reporter to the Children’s Hearing. They are also made when the child is too young to understand the proceedings at the Children’s Hearing. These cases are referred to the Sheriff Court for evidence to be heard, if appropriate, by a Sheriff to decide on any dispute between the parties in relation to matters of fact and/or law. Generally speaking, it is in the interests of the child’s parents (and also often in the child’s interests too) to have the benefit of legal advice prior to these cases calling in Court. Legal aid itself can also be made available, according to circumstances, to allow parents and/or a child to be represented by a solicitor before the court hearing the case. We have many years of experience in dealing with cases of this nature, and will be happy to assist you through the process involved.