In Scotland, the law provides that every local authority will have a Children’s Panel. A Children’s Panel is also referred to as the Children’s Hearing System. Panel members are made up of laypersons who volunteer to carry out the function.
A Children’s Hearing refers to a sitting of three Panel members to hear a child’s case. There must be one man and one woman at each hearing and one of the Panel members must act as chairman. The chairperson’s role is to explain the procedures that must be followed. Cases at the Children’s Panel are usually referred by a person who is known as a Reporter. The Children’s Reporter has certain powers to investigate matters when an allegation has been made and social workers and police officers are under a duty to give information to the Children’s Reporter where compulsory measures of supervision may be necessary in respect of a child.
When a Reporter decides on the basis of the information obtained that compulsory measures of supervision might be necessary in respect of a child he or she must arrange a Children’s Hearing. The question of whether compulsory measures of supervision are necessary arise if at least one of the grounds of referral set out in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 or the Children’s Hearing (Scotland) Act 2011 applies to a child or children. The Children’s Reporter will arrange for a hearing to be assigned and for grounds of referral with supporting statements of fact to be put to the relevant person or persons.
It is important to understand that the grounds of referral and the accompanying statements of fact are concerned with the welfare of the child and not necessarily to criticise any adult. On occasion, the Children’s Hearing can appoint a Safeguarder to make such investigations as he or she considers necessary depending on the circumstances of the case. A further Children’s Hearing can be assigned to enable the Safeguarder to prepare a report. The question of who attends the Children’s Hearing is not straightforward. The test of whether someone is a relevant person depends upon the facts and circumstances of each case but in the recent Supreme Court case of Principal Reporter – v- Kay, the persons who are deemed relevant has been broadened dramatically. It has often been the case that many parties have been excluded from Children’s Hearings because of errors in the determination of relevant persons.
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