Judges block ‘named person’ plans

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The UK Supreme Court has ruled against the Scottish government’s plan for every child in Scotland to have a ‘named person’ to support their wellbeing.

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The Named Person policy is intended to support families, but has proved controversial

Following a legal challenge to the policy by campaigners, judges have said that some of the proposals breach rights to privacy and a family life under the European Convention of Human Rights, preventing the scheme from becoming law.

The scheme is already being trialled in some areas and was due to be rolled out nationally by 31 August.

The appeal was brought by the No to Named Persons (NO2NP) coalition, which includes the Christian Institute, Care (Christian Action Research and Education), Tyme Trust, the Family Education Trust, and three individuals.

The court ruled that changes must be made to the information-sharing provisions of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act. Currently part 4 of the Act relating to the sharing of information about children, young people and families without their consent does not comply with Article 8 of the European Convention Human Rights (ECHR).

The Scottish government has 42 days to amend the legislation.

Campaigners believe that the named person legislation interferes with family life, undermines parents and permits the state unlimited access to pry into the privacy of families in their homes.

Simon Calvert, spokesman for NO2NP, said, ‘We are delighted with the decision which proves our concerns, and those of the 35,000 people who signed our petition, were properly founded. This proposed scheme was intrusive, incomprehensible and illegal.

‘This ruling means the Scottish government has been blocked from implementing this scheme on August 31. It must scrap its plan for state snoopers with intrusive data sharing powers. It has to go back to the legislative drawing board if it wants to try again. But they would have to come up with a much more limited scheme that actually respects the rights of children and parents.’

However, the Scottish government and children’s charities argue that the policy is in the best interests of the child and protects vulnerable children and families. The aim of the Named Person policy is for every child and family to have a single point of contact for help or advice if they need it.

In their pre-school years, a child’s Named Person is likely to be a health visitor, then a head teacher, deputy, or guidance teacher once they are at school.

Both sides appear to claim victory in the ruling.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said that the attempt to scrap the scheme had ‘failed’, and pledged to work with key public services and children’s charities to ensure the successful roll-out of the ‘Named Person’ service for every child.

He said, ‘The Supreme Court has stated that the aim of the legislation, in promoting and safeguarding the wellbeing of children and young people, is “unquestionably legitimate and benign”. It makes clear that the principle of providing a named person to support children and families does not breach human rights.

‘The court’s ruling requires us to provide greater clarity about the basis on which health visitors, teachers and other professionals supporting families will share and receive information in their named person role. We will start work on this immediately so we can make the necessary legislative amendments. The service will be implemented nationally at the earliest possible date.

‘Ministers remain absolutely committed to the named person policy, developed over several years in consultation with a wide range of individuals and organisations working across Scotland to support children and families. We will work closely with local authorities, health boards and other key public service partners to ensure that those performing the role have the support and guidance they need ahead of implementation.’

The Scottish government also points out that the Children and Young People Act 2014 was passed with cross-party support by 103 votes to zero in the Scottish Parliament. The policy is part of Scotland’s Getting It Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) policy framework.

It has been supported widely by children’s charities including Barnardos, the NSPCC, Action for Children, as well as the Royal College of Nursing.

Martin Crewe, director of Barnardo’s Scotland, said, ‘It is very good news that the Named Person legislation will go ahead following the Supreme Court ruling.

‘The court has recognised that the aims of the legislation set out in Part 4 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 are reasonable and legitimate.

‘The court was clear that there needs to be sufficient safeguards on when information is shared. It has also identified that there needs to be clearer guidance for professionals working with the legislation to ensure that they are able to effectively assess when to share information.

‘We look forward to working with the Scottish government and other stakeholders to ensure the Named Person service works effectively to support children and young people in Scotland. We are also encouraged by the court’s recognition that early intervention is a central element of the effective operation of the Named Person role.’

Maggie Simpson, chief executive of the Scottish Childminding Association said, ‘We welcome this judgment and the clarity it has provided. As childminders are professionals working to support families, SCMA has been involved in the consultation process of the named person policy over several years. The UK Supreme Court has ruled that changes are required to the information-sharing provisions and I will continue to work to ensure the best interests of children and our members ahead of any legislative amendments.’

Jackie Brock, chief executive of Children in Scotland, said, ‘What is needed now is for new provisions to be redrafted to ensure they are fully in accordance with ECHR. The Scottish government has been given 42 days to put this right.

‘We are pleased that the judgment has upheld the principles of Getting it Right for Every Child and that existing implementation by local authorities and public bodies of these principles can continue.

‘We call on the government to move quickly to put an end to any uncertainty.’

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