This update explains about work being done by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Children’s Hearings Scotland (CHS) to reduce delays to children’s hearings. It includes some practical measures you could take to help reduce the likelihood of delays occurring.
We meet periodically with colleagues in SCRA and CHS to discuss the legal aid system’s interaction with the children’s hearings system and identify areas where we can help it to operate as smoothly as possible.
At a recent meeting, CHS and SCRA discussed the work they have been doing to tackle delays to the start time of children’s hearings. Delay can create additional anxiety for the child, young people and relevant persons and can result in knock-on delays for other hearings scheduled in the same session.
Both partner agencies are looking for ways to minimise this impact.
CHS and SCRA have highlighted that one of the reasons delay can occur is where a solicitor still requires to take instructions from their client and asks for a delay to the start time of the hearing itself.
They are aware that there can be numerous reasons why a client may not have instructed you in advance.
We also appreciate that the urgent nature of these cases can result in hearings being convened at short notice, making it difficult to always meet with clients in sufficient time before every hearing.
However, given the adverse impact this can have on others and as there can often be very limited, or no, facilities at a hearing centre to let you speak privately with your client, CHS is asking for your co-operation to try to reduce the instances where this occurs.
CHS and SCRA have reported that this can be an issue across the country and they have had discussions with individual firms where it appears to be a frequent practice. In centres where solicitors may be travelling longer distances to attend or taking part by video-conferencing, specific arrangements have been made following discussions with solicitors.
Not getting the hearing papers in good time before the hearing can be one reason that your client may not have given you instructions. SCRA can send papers to you by email. However, they can only send them using the secure email service – Criminal Justice System Secure eMail (CJSM).
All solicitors could benefit from this, but it may be especially useful when you are acting as a duty solicitor. You can find out how to register to use this service at the CJSM website. This is widely used by solicitors who correspond with a range of agencies.
It will not be uncommon for certain clients to fail to respond to your requests to meet; thinking that it is acceptable to speak to you at the last minute at the hearing centre. Your co-operation in explaining the benefits to them of meeting in advance and the impact of the problems late instruction can cause would be appreciated to try to change behaviours.
Working with all our partners in the children’s hearings system, we promote the Children’s Hearings Improvement Partnership’s (CHIP) Vision and Values Statement. This is supported by all organisations involved in the children’s hearings system, including the Law Society of Scotland.
All of us working in the children’s hearings system, including solicitors providing representation funded by legal aid, should have regard to the Vision and Values to help the system keep improving for children and relevant persons.
If you have any suggestions to help improve the running of the children’s hearings in your area, please make contact with your local Area Support Team at CHS or local reporter at SCRA.