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Entries in Justice Committee (2)

Monday
Feb152016

2006 Family Law Act ripe for reform

The Justice committee of the Scottish Parliament is conducting “post-legislative scrutiny” of the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006. The committee describes it as one of the most important pieces of legislation on family law in recent years.

The committee invited a number of organisations - including FNF Scotland - and individuals with an experience of the Act to submit an overview on its effectiveness. Our submission.

The Act covered a range of issues including modernisation of the law as it affected cohabitees. However, FNF Scotland mainly comes up against problems with the Act in connection with sections 23 and 24.

Section 23 extended the possibility of securing Parental Rights and Responsibilities to unmarried fathers and section 24 amended the Children (Scotland) Act to make it a requirement for a judge to take into account allegations of domestic abuse – or the prospect of domestic abuse – when determining the best interests if the child.

FNF Scotland believes it is time for a review of both the Children (Scotland) Acts of 1995 and 2006. Our experience is that in the current climate they support contrived adversarial behaviour and airing of unfounded accusations aimed at controlling contact with a non-resident parent that damages children and both parents.

It is encouraging that several of the other submissions make essentially the same comment.

The Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 was very much an act of its time but the reality of family life here has moved on from the rather restrictive view portrayed then. We have reviewed the debates in committee and the chamber at the time and it stands out that the tone was very much directed towards controlling family life of unmarried fathers rather than positively promoting it.  We believe the Act remains essentially discriminatory  - as flagged by the Scottish Law Commission a decade earlier - by building into statute that the status of separated fathers is largely contingent on the state of the relationship as perceived by the mother.

In our submission we say, “It is not a sign of good health for any piece of legislation that a perception of unfairness grows around it. There is such a feeling around the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 not only among non-resident parents - most of whom are fathers – but also among the grandparents, new partners and other family members who contact us.  It is a sense that has also been shared with us by members of the legal profession and, on occasion, by members of the bench.”

We believe there is ample evidence from many countries that children do better in all aspects of their life, attainment and wellbeing when both their parents are fully involved in their life and their parents have equal recognition from public services including schools and health providers.

The Justice Committee will take further evidence in its scrutiny exercise in due course. We will report developments here.  Full list of submissions

Sunday
Oct092011

Legal Aid - sustainable or inadequate?

This week the Scottish Government published proposals for the future of legal aid.  The paper "A sustainable future for legal aid" set out their intention to maintain and improve access to justice, while at the same time saving money. 

It notes that recent increases financial eligibility for civil legal aid in 2009 mean that people with disposable incomes of up to £25,000 qualify for some assistance.  The recent Spending Review reduced the budget for legal aid will fall from £161.4m in 2010-11 to £132.1m in 2014-15, so radical change is necessary.

While restating the need to provide adequate legal aid for all parties in child contact disputes, Families Need Fathers Scotland will be asking the Scottish Government to look very carefully at whether it might be more cost effective to move straight to a proof hearing stage in high-conflict child contact/residence cases.

We know of many cases which have involved umpteen Child Welfare hearings extending over many months or years without any resolution.  This is damaging to all parties concerned, and we would suggest that this investment in early resolution could produce savings in both money and feelings.

The Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament is calling for evidence on the impact of the proposed cuts to legal aid, as one of their main topics of enquiry this session. 

Families Need Fathers Scotland will be submitting a response noting our concern that obtaining legal aid has become significantly more difficult in child contact cases during the course of this year, particularly when assistance is sought to take a hearing to proof in order to consider a bar report in more detail.