The Children (Scotland) Bill and the UNCRC

There are big changes to child law in Scotland coming. The Children (Scotland) Bill has passed to Stage 2 of the legislative process, which means that the detailed terms of the draft Bill and amendments will now be considered.

The Justice Committee will have their first look at the proposed amendments on Tuesday, 23rd June 2020. You can follow progress on the Bill here.

In a series of posts this week we will give you an overview of the changes that are being proposed by the Scottish Government and will highlight some of the individual sections. Tomorrow will be the overview of the Bill and the following days will focus on individual sections.

Meantime, this piece will give you some background on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which the Government regards as being central to the proposed changes to the law.

Why is new law being proposed by the Scottish Government?

The Scottish Government correctly identify that our present law is not wholly compliant with the UNCRC. In the ‘Protecting Scotland’s Future’, Programme for Government, in September 2018, the First Minister gave a commitment that the Government would,

continue its work to establish a legislative framework for a Scottish Bill of Rights. This will be preceded, by the end of this Parliament, by legislation to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.'

Partly in consequence of that commitment, the Children (Scotland) Bill has now been tabled, with one of the key policy aims being,

Further compliance with the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC);'

So, what is the UNCRC?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. It came into force in September 1990 and has 140 signatories and 196 parties. All UN member states except for the USA have ratified the Convention and the Convention came into force in the UK in 1992.

If the UNCRC came into force in the UK in 1992, why do we need to do anything?

Treaties, like the UNCRC, do not, of themselves give enforceable rights to individual citizens. When a country signs up to a convention they are committing to ensure that their domestic law gives citizens the rights under the convention. Often countries have to change their domestic law to make sure that citizens have enforceable rights in accordance with the treaty- which is what the Scottish Government is seeking to do here.

What rights does the UNCRC say that children should have?

The Convention has 54 Articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children should be entitled to enjoy. It places obligations on adults and governments to allow whose rights to be fulfilled.

It covers a whole range of rights, including the right to: life, survival and development; respect for his or her views; privacy; education and protection from violence, abuse and neglect. You can find a summary of the rights here.

The way that the Scottish Government summarise the effect of the UNCRC rights is by saying that,

'adults should think about the best interests of children and young people when making choices that affect them.

This means that adults should:

  • think about what’s best for children and young people in their day to day lives when making decisions
  • make sure children and young people are protected and cared for
  • make sure that groups who protect and care for children and young people are good at what they do'

The blog post tomorrow will give an overview of the changes to Scots law that are proposed by the Scottish Government to, amongst other matters, ensure that we are compliant with the rights given by the UNCRC. The changes focus on hearing, and having regard to, the views of children; provision for vulnerable child witnesses and parties and a rehaul of how the justice system as a whole works in child law matters. More to follow....