Friday, June 6, 2008

SS v Children's Reporter

On 30th May Sheriff Charles Stoddart at Edinburgh Sheriff Court ruled in SS v Children's Reporter that a children's hearing was wrong to exclude an unmarried father recently awarded interim contact with his baby son, on the basis that he was not a "relevant person" under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. The sheriff said that although the hearing was aware that another sheriff had, just one month before, awarded the father interim contact, the father was not told that the hearing was taking place or invited to attend it because, not having parental rights and responsibilities in relation to the baby, he was not a "relevant person" entitled to attend.

The father appealed on the basis that the interim order in his favour was enough to make him a person with parental rights and responsibilities - and therefore a relevant person. Sheriff Stoddart ruled that the interim order did not "vest" any parental rights and responsibilities in the father, but did relate to the exercise of such rights. This point was not covered by in the case law P v P which predated the Human Rights Act 1998. In any event the term "relevant person" ought to be read in a way that was compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and the contact order provided a link between father and son such that it was a breach of his article 6 rights to deny him the chance to be heard.

The appeal was allowed and the case sent back to the children's hearing to reconsider.


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