Statement on legal support for children
Nick Hobbs, Head of Advice and Investigations at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said:
“Access to justice underpins any robust system of human rights protection. In order for rights to be effective, children must be able to enforce them through the legal system if needed. Claire Lightowler and Clan Childlaw’s report is an important insight into the needs and challenges children in conflict with the law face when trying to access lawyers and legal support.
“The report calls for ‘dedicated legal services, tailored to meet the specific needs of children and young people in conflict with the law’. Our office fully supports this, and urges all stakeholders to work together to achieve this.
“Sadly, Scotland is still a long way from the rights-respecting justice system we committed to when ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 30 years ago. The continued delay of UNCRC incorporation into Scots law means all children are still waiting to have their rights properly protected in law. Gaps in the availability of legal advice and representation mean that rights breaches go unchallenged and statutory duties can be flouted by public bodies. When it comes to children in conflict with the law, this can have tragic consequences. The children who contributed to the report are clear about what a good lawyer and legal support look like, and highlighted that there is often a significant gap between what children and young people need from the legal system and what they experience.
“Children in conflict with the law need to be treated first and foremost as children”. They should be supported to develop positive relationships with trusted adults; most poignantly emphasised in the report when the young people involved said it was ‘important for lawyers to meet them informally, ideally over chips, to get to know them first before engaging in focused and difficult discussions.
“They are children in need of care, protection, and therapeutic support to recover from trauma and adversity. Their needs and behaviour must be addressed in a child-friendly justice system where their rights, welfare and best interests are respected, protected and fulfilled.”