Children should be able to take court action against fee-paying schools, childcare providers and other private-sector bodies that deliver public services if they infringe on their rights, MSPs have said.
The Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee wants a bill incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law to be strengthened.
It said it supports the general principles of the Bill but wants it expanded to cover private sector and voluntary organisations who deliver public services.
This would include private schools and private housing, residential care and childcare providers.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill legally obliges public authorities – including Government ministers – to respect children and young people’s rights.
It would allow children, young people and their representatives to go to the courts to enforce these.
In its stage 1 report, the committee also raised concerns about the accessibility of the existing courts and tribunals service to children.
It urged the Scottish Government to amend the Bill so that courts and tribunals “must”, rather than “may”, take into account the whole of the text of the UNCRC when determining a case, and to require courts and tribunals to ask for the child’s views on what would constitute an “effective remedy” in their case.
Committee convener Ruth Maguire said: “This is a landmark piece of legislation which has the potential to put children’s rights at the heart of public authority decision-making.
“However, we believe – as the evidence to the committee has shown – that there are areas where the Bill can be improved.
“The committee’s report calls on the Scottish Government to explore how the definition of a public authority can be amended at stage 2 to include those private-sector organisations which provide public services, in accordance with the spirit and intention of the Bill.
“We also make recommendations aimed at improving access to justice for children and young people, and ensuring judicial remedies for infringements of children’s rights are effective in practice.
“It is vital that children have their rights protected, respected and fulfilled as a matter of urgency, which is why we have urged the Scottish Government to amend the commencement provision to ensure this legislation come into effect six months after the Bill receives Royal Assent.”
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “I am delighted to see the committee back the general principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill.
“I will give my full consideration to the committee’s recommendations and outline my response shortly.
“I look forward to working with the committee and Parliament to ensure this landmark Bill puts children’s rights at the heart of public authority decision-making.”
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