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Entries in Public petitions Committee (4)


Petitions Committee to raise fitness of family law with Scottish Government

The Scottish Parliament Public Petitions committee this morning undertook to write to the Scottish Government for its view on whether it is time to look seriously at a review of Scottish family law. 

The committee had taken evidence on his petition http://tinyurl.com/jkb8227 by Stewart Currie that had called for an independent review on a range of issues where he felt the procedures within family law for agreeing contact/residence arrangements for children when their parents no longer live together are unsatisfactory or contradictory and often work against the stated objective of making the child's interests paramount.

FNF Scotland had written to the committee http://tinyurl.com/je7p2s6   in support of Mr Currie's petition but also drawing to its attention the number of petitions in the same area that had been lodged during the current parliament since the 2011 Holyrood election.

Video http://tinyurl.com/jctuv48 of the committee discussion on the issue can be seen here, beginning at 45'00".

In the discussion after Mr Currie's evidence committee member, Hanzala Malik, said, "Children shouldn't have to suffer the indignity of being separated from one parent or another unless things are proven in court. Accusations come fast and furious - quite outrageous accusations. I agree with the petitioner and petitioners who have come to us. And if the petitioners are happy we can perhaps put them all together so we can ask the government to look at this more seriously."

Committee convener, Michael McMahon, said, "We do have to look at all these in the round ... We are building up a picture here of areas in which we would like to see the government answering in terms of family law."

Kenny MacAskill, former Justice Secretary, agreed. He said, "I do think we are at a juncture where we've moved on considerably from previous investigations both in parliament and in legislative change. We now have a change to the court system. We have changes to appointments and specialisations on the shrieval bench. We have pressure upon the legal aid board. ... I do think we're at a juncture where the government should be seeking to bring it all together rather than looking at any one bit individually. This is the time. The government should be asked to bring the current changes together and consider where we go."

FNF Scotland national manager, Ian Maxwell, said, "This is a very encouraging development. In our response to the committee on Mr Currie's petition we set out our view that Scotland's children and families will benefit from a broader change in prevailing culture that looks for the positives in parenting after separation. This is far better for children than the current adversarial approach by which one parent's time with his/her children is “won” at the expense of inflicting damage on the other.

It is a tribute to the perserverance of all the petitioners in recent years that the message is getting home that the law has been overtaken by social and economic changes within families in Scotland and by government policy which now recognises more clearly the obligations of both parents to promote the wellbeing of their children and also their children's right to family life."




Petitions Committee backs further moves on unmarried fathers and birth re-registration

Earlier this year Ron Park submitted a petition to the Scottish Parliament raising various problems faced by unmarried fathers in Scotland.

When his petition was discussed by the Public Petitions Committee on 6th May and the committee then asked various bodies, including Families Need Fathers Scotland to submit further evidence.  A wide range of submissions were made to the committee, indicating both importance of this issue and the controversy it raises.

The Scottish Government Public Petitions Committee at their meeting on 5th August supported further consideration of various aspects of Ron Park’s petition.

Jackson Carlaw MSP called on Community Safety and Legal Affairs Minister Roseanna Cunningham to reconsider her statement to the committee that bracketed together women who become pregnant through rape and those who become pregnant through brief affairs.  

As FNF Scotland pointed out, the Minister unhelpfully joins together women who have been raped with those who have become pregnant through a brief relationship and suggests it is not “fair” that they should have to go to court to have Parental Rights and Parental Responsibilities removed.  In equalities terms it is difficult to see how it can be “fair” for a father to be denied involvement or even knowledge of his child even if it is the result of a brief relationship.

We would not expect women who have conceived after rape to be required to name the father.

However, we feel it is incumbent on the Minister to disaggregate the numbers to give a sense of how many of the 3,009 (5.2%) sole registered births in 2012 are the result of rape and incest.

The Committee agreed to further pursue the Government’s views on four matters raised in the responses to Mr Park’s petition:

  • Families Need Fathers Scotland’s proposal that mothers should provide a reason when registering a birth without providing the father’s name; 
  • The Law Society of Scotland's proposal that courts be given the power to order DNA tests when seeking to determine paternity; 
  • CLAN Childlaw’s suggestion that the question of whether all fathers should automatically have Parental Rights and Parental Responsibilities be referred to the Scottish Law Commission for consideration of inclusion in a future programme; and
  • Why it considers that the prospect of a mother raising proceedings to remove PRRs from a man with whom she had had a brief (consensual) relationship would be unfair.

Ian Maxwell from Families Need Fathers Scotland commented:

“This response from the Committee shows that Ron Park has raised some very valid questions about the way unmarried fathers are treated in Scotland.  As the response from Clan Childlaw pointed out, 3009 births in Scotland were registered without details of the father in 2012."

"Although sole registration accounts for only 5.2% of live births, this means that nearly 50,000 Scottish children don’t have the father’s name on their birth certificate.   Even if some of these gaps are for valid reasons such as rape or incest or because the father's identity is genuinely unknown, that still leaves a substantial number of Scottish children who are being denied knowledge of who their father is.” 

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s offer to undertake a consultation on the procedures for re-registering births to include the father’s name, and hope that the Minister will reconsider her approach to unmarried fathers who have positive reasons for wanting involvement with their children, in line with her Government’s recent National Parenting Strategy which supports involvement of fathers.”


Scottish child contact and residence laws should be reviewed

In our response to Ron Park's petition on the rights of unmarried fathers to the Scottish Parliament Public Petitions Committee, Families Need Fathers Scotland suggests the child contact and residence law are now out of line with current knowledge of the benefits to children of the involvement of both parents after separation and with other Scottish Government objectives.

The relevant legislation has been overtaken both by social and economic changes within families in Scotland and by Scottish Government policy which now recognises more clearly the obligations of both parents to promote the wellbeing of their children and also their children's right to family life.

FNFS Scotland national manager, Ian Maxwell, says, “The 2006 Act in particular was legislation of its time. We point out in our response to the petitions committee it is salutary but dispiriting to read the official record of the debates on the Act, much of it couched in negative and hostile language that would be out of place today."

"Divorced and separated fathers have to deal with the consequences of that negativity when they discover in court they have to prove their worth as parents to do the same things after separation that were normal parenting before. They feel they are on trial.”

“Our experience is that the 2006 reforms to the 1995 Children (Scotland) Act have tended to polarise conflict between the parents rather than resolve it. The evidence is overwhelming that children prosper when both parents and their extended family are involved and co-operate with mutual respect and legislation should support that objective rather than place obstacles in its way."

"Parents need a route out of conflict so that, in the interests of the children, they will be able to co-operate with tolerance if not enthusiasm. Both mother and father have to be good parents long after the lawyers have gone home."

FNF Scotland believes it is time to bring family law in Scotland up to date to acknowledge  the overall benefits for children of support by both parents.   We believe a culture change is already under way that rejects the marginalisation of fathers.


Equal Rights for Unmarried Fathers

The public petitions committee of the Scottish Parliament has discussed a petition lodged by Ron Park calling for Equal Rights for Unmarried Fathers.

Ron explains the background of his petition that his son, Alex, was born in October 2013 but the mother has refused ever to let him even see him. He has not been named as the father in Alex's birth certificate. Ron explains the efforts he has made to see the child and to have a role in boy's life - and his shock at discovering there are no mechanisms in Scots law to assist him.

Ron is calling for:

1. Both parents must be named on a birth certificate before a birth can be legally registered. Where the child's parentage is in doubt, all avenues must be explored in determining the child's father to the satisfaction of a court. If it is still not possible to name the child's father for whatever reason, a court may grant a registered birth with only one parent.

2. After parentage is determined, and should both parents be found to be fit and able to care for the child should an investigation be necessary, full rights and responsibilities will be awarded to BOTH parents. This will include the duty of care and living arrangements either agreed by mutual consent or, as a last resort, a court order.

3. And perhaps my most important change in that if the court orders a DNA test, or anything else for that matter, then failure to comply with this request should be considered contempt of court. If we cannot rely on our legal system to fall back on, then we simply have a lawless and anarchic society. 

The full petition, now signed by 423 individuals, can be found here. http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/GettingInvolved/Petitions/petitionPDF/PE01513.pdf

FNF Scotland national manager, Ian Maxwell, says, "This is an important initiative by Ron Park. Many people, including legislators, are unaware of how difficult and heartbreaking it can be for an unmarried non-resident father to be an involved parent of his child - especially a new born - if the mother wishes to exclude him for reasons of her own.

There is a raft of evidence that shows children do better in every area of their life - in health, educational attainment, self esteem and maintaining relationships themselves when both parents and their respective extended families are fully involved even after divorce or separation.

Successive Scottish Children's Acts have stressed that the paramount concern of both parents should be the best interests of their children. Public policy repeatedly reminds us of our responsibilities as parents towards our children.

We hope the Public Petitions Committee will take an active view of Mr Park's petition and urge on the Scottish Government the need to bring our parenting legislation up to date with current expectations about parental involvement and prevent individual tragedies such as Mr Park's."

Families Need Fathers Scotland will be providing further information to the committee about an issue which features in many of the enquiries we receive.