SNP plans to assign every Scottish child in the country a state guardian amount to “disproportionate” interference with the traditional role of parents, the legal profession has warned ministers.
The Law Society of Scotland attacked the Scottish Government’s plans to give every child a “named person”, who could theoretically be anyone but their mother or father, from birth to the age of 18.
The individual, who would most likely be a social worker or head teacher, would have the legal right to ensure the child is raised in a government-approved manner and report any issues about their upbringing to the authorities.
But, in an official submission, the Law Society warned the move could be illegal under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), which protects a parent’s “private and family life”.
The legal experts also warned that the move, which has been included in the The Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill, could be too much for overstretched councils.
The net result would be local authorities overseeing children who do not need help while youngsters who need assistance are neglected, they suggested.
Morag Driscoll, convener of the society’s family law committee said the legislation’s intentions are “admirable” but could result in interference with “a parent’s rights and responsibilities.”
“It could be interpreted as disproportionate state interference. We are also unclear about how this legislation will work in practice and in particular, the resources required to administer the ‘named person’ scheme,” she said.
In a written submission to Holyrood’s education committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the legislation, the Law Society warned that the definition of a “named person” is too broad as it could be anyone but a parent.
Outlining the possibility of a legal challenge under Article 8, the Law Society said it could be argued that the legislation contravened “the parent’s right to respect for private and family life, as there is scope for interference between the role of the named person and the exercise of a parent’s rights and responsibilities.”
While minister do not intent to intrude on the tradition family, the experts warned the legislation could be deemed to amount to “disproportionate state interference”.
They were concerned about the impact of the Bill on another SNP pledge, to increase the minimum number of free child care hours for three and four-year-olds from 475 hours per year to 600.
The overall impact on “early intervention” across the board may lead to too little help being given to the children who actually need assistance, they said.
Liz Smith, Scottish Tory education spokesman, said the legislation “seems to be all about the nanny state, instead of focusing on vulnerable children.”
But a Scottish Government spokesman said: “The named person, who is likely to be a health visitor, head or deputy head teacher and will usually already know the child, will be a first point of contact if help is needed.
“This is formalising what should already happen and there is evidence it is working well in many areas.”