Children's Referrals & Panel Hearing Lawyers, Glasgow
Our Glasgow Law Practice solicitors are regularly instructed by parents, children and "relevant persons" in respect of Childrens Referral Hearings which are heard at the Sheriff Court.
These hearings are fixed after a parent or child has not accepted the "statement of facts" that were at issue at the Childrens Panel hearing. When such grounds are denied the Childrens Panel refers the matter to the Sheriff Court for a Sheriff to hear evidence. The Sheriff has to decide "on the balance of probabilities" if the grounds have been established. If the Sheriff makes such a finding the matter is then referred back to the Childrens Panel system. Legal advice is essential in such matters.
Family life is hoped, for the most part, to be largely peaceful where everyone gets on well and there are no issues to warrant outside involvement. Unfortunately, there are times when families experience significant upheaval or difficulties where relationships can become strained and difficult to maintain. In these instances, it may be necessary for external actors to become involved with a view to helping resolve the situation as quickly and effectively as possible.
In terms of familial upheaval and its effect on children, there is a specialist agency known as the Children’s Panel. The Children’s Panel is the primary organisation that will make decisions on children where there are concerns regarding their welfare, or if there is a concern that they will be at particular risk or are vulnerable to harm. As such the role of the Children’s Panel is an important one, and there needs to be an understanding of when it and indeed the courts will need to become involved in making decisions regarding children.
How does the Children’s Panel become involved in family affairs?
The main organ through which concerns regarding the safety or welfare of a child are voiced is through the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA). It tends to be the case that where there is a concern regarding the safety of a child, this will be raised by the local authority, the school, or indeed the policy and referred to the SCRA consideration. It is also possible for children to refer themselves to the SCRA if they do not feel safe in their home environment. The referral will be given to a Children’s Reporter – an employee of the SCRA – who will make a decision on whether or not a full hearing by the Children’s Panel needs to be organised.
What is the Children's Reporter interested in?
When the Children's Reporter is considering the need for a full Panel hearing, they will need to consider the circumstances and whether they are sufficiently grave to warrant further scrutiny. There is a statutory list for issues that will warrant referral to a full hearing at the Children's Panel set down in the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2001. These are as follows:
- If the child is likely to suffer serious harm through lack of parental care
- If there is any evidence of suspension that the child is suffering from sexual abuse or exposure to sexual activity
- If there is evidence of a close connection to someone who has carried out domestic abuse or sexual offences
- If there is any indication that a child is committing illegal activities or acts
- If there is any evidence that the child's parents or careers are unable to control the child; or
- If there is evidence that the child is not attending school
An important point to understand is that if the Children's Reporter is satisfied that, on investigation of the situation, that any of the above criteria apply to a child then in making a referral for a Panel Hearing they are in effect asking the Panel that intervention in family life is made. Legally speaking, the Reporter will be asking for compulsory supervision order – intervention by a local authority or other agency - to be granted by the Panel in respect of a child.
What happens if a Children’s Panel hearing is convened?
The fact that a situation has been deemed sufficiently serious to warrant the attention of a full Children’s Panel is serious. The convening of the Panel is in fact a legal meeting, where only people that have a legal right to be involved in the decisions affecting a young child may attend.
Whilst it is generally appreciated that different people will be concerned about the wellbeing of children and will be willing to help, if there is a genuine concern that a child's safety is in doubt, the law has to rigidly police those that can participate and step in to address the situation.
The Panel will be made up of three members of the local community who have received specialist training on making decisions that concern child safety and welfare. At the hearing, the concerns regarding a child will be read out and the Panel will need to decide what actions should be taken in the circumstances. Panel members can make one or another decisions depending on the circumstances of the referral that brought them together, including:
- that formal, compulsory supervision measures are not needed, and that they are convinced of the child's safety such to dismiss the case;
- that more detail information is needed in order to make a decision on what is best for the child. This can result in the hearing being reconvened at a later date with the Panel agreeing interim measures for a child if they are sufficiently concerned as to their wellbeing; or
- that the situation is sufficiently grave that there needs to be supervision orders issued in respect of the child. An order will normally stipulate what is to happen to a child in terms of with whom and where they should live e.g. with one or another parents, grandparents etc and how other members of their family will interact with them.
Why would the courts ever need to be involved?
The Children's Panel is capable of making legal decisions in respect of children, so there is a question as to why and when the courts will need to be involved. As was mentioned earlier, during a Panel Hearing the circumstances that have brought the child to the Panels’ attention will be read aloud. It is normal that the child and their parents/ carers are asked to confirm that these are true and accurate. In the event that there is agreement by all, then the Panel can proceed accordingly. However, if there is any question over familial/child agreement e.g. a claim that the reasons are not accurate or are not clear, then the Panel is not empowered to make any other decision. It is in this context that the matter will need to be referred to the Sheriff Court.
When a case is referred to the Sheriff court, the Sheriff will listen to why the reasons for referral were in dispute. It will then be for the Sheriff to consider the situation and satisfy themselves that the reasons are accurate. If this is deemed to be the case, then the Sheriff can refer the matter back for consideration at another children's hearing. However, in the event that the Sheriff is persuaded that the reasons are not accurate then the matter will be dismissed – there will be no further hearing on it either.
It is important to understand that the process around children's hearings is fairly rigid. Furthermore, decisions taken at children's hearings are significant and can have a profound impact on family life. The intention behind any decision is to safeguard a child's welfare, with a view to helping them maintain a familial relationship where possible or remove them from what is deemed to be a harmful situation. If you are concerned about what being involved in a Children's Hearing means, contact the specialist family lawyers at The Glasgow Law Practice.
At the Glasgow Law Practice we have a long, proud history of working with clients to help them understand how the law affects them and their families. Our specialist solicitors are holy trained in advising on, and representing clients’ interests at hearings. We will work with you leading up to and during the hearing, ensuring that you are fully advised on what any decision will mean for you and your family. Contact us today and learn more about how we can help.