Family Education Trust welcomes today’s UK Supreme Court ruling that the named person scheme is ‘defective’ and ‘cannot be brought into force’ in its present form.
The plan that every child and young person in Scotland should have a state-appointed professional to ‘safeguard and support their wellbeing’ from birth until at least the age of 18 will therefore not now be introduced as originally proposed.
Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, one of the four charities which brought the case to the UK Supreme Court, commented:
‘We warmly welcome the Court’s recognition that the named person scheme represents a disproportionate intrusion into family life and undermines parents.
‘Whenever the state assumes responsibility for any aspect of bringing up children, it inevitably affects the way parents view their role. The result is that parents tend to become more passive and take less responsibility for their children. Over time this creates a vicious circle in which more child neglect leads to more state intervention in children’s lives and an ever greater burden on the taxpayer.’
In a unanimous ruling, the panel of five Supreme Court judges concluded that the powers granted to named persons to share private information about the children for whom they had responsibility were ‘incompatible with the rights of children, young persons and parents’. The legislation therefore lay outside ‘the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament’.
The judgment further states that the information-sharing provisions of Part 4 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 ‘may in practice result in a disproportionate interference’ with the right of children and their parents to a private and family life.
Norman Wells observed:
‘Under the named person scheme, the threshold for intervention in the family was placed at a very low level. Given the gradual shift away from a reliance on objective measurements of child wellbeing and a growing focus on subjective impressions gained from speaking to children about their own feelings and perceptions, there was considerable scope for a well-adjusted child from a secure and loving home being adjudged to have a “wellbeing need” by a well-meaning but over-zealous professional.
‘There was always a very real danger that children could have been subject to unnecessary and potentially damaging intrusion into their private and family lives on the basis of a named person’s subjective impressions and judgments.’
Freedom and the family
The panel of judges, which included two judges from Scotland, stressed the importance of respecting the integrity of the family unit for the preservation of civil liberties. They stated that:
‘There is an inextricable link between the protection of the family and the protection of fundamental freedoms in liberal democracies. The noble concept in article 1 of the Universal Declaration, that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” is premised on difference. If we were all the same, we would not need to guarantee that individual differences should be respected…
‘Individual differences are the product of the interplay between the individual person and his upbringing and environment. Different upbringings produce different people. The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.’
The judgment proceeds to quote approvingly from a decision in the US Supreme Court stating that: ‘The child is not the mere creature of the state.’
Family Education Trust director, Norman Wells, remarked:
‘The UK Supreme Court is absolutely right to recognise the vital role of the family in a free society. It is not the function of the state to determine what constitutes optimal parenting or to regulate how every child is brought up and educated.
‘At a time when there is an alarming and widespread deference to expert opinion at the expense of parents, legislators and policymakers both north and south of the border would do well to pay careful attention to the wise and perceptive comments of the Supreme Court judges.’
Notes for editors
- The judicial review of Part 4 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was brought by the Christian Institute, Family Education Trust, CARE and the Tymes Trust, together with several Scottish parents.
- The case was heard by the UK Supreme Court on 8-9 March 2016.
- The bench consisted of Lady Hale, Deputy President (Chair), Lord Wilson, Lord Reed, Lord Hughes and Lord Hodge.
- The ruling, handed down on 28 July 2016, observes that the named person would have discretion to share a ‘potentially very wide’ range of confidential information about children without their consent or the consent of their parents.
- The stated purpose of the scheme was to promote the ‘wellbeing’ of children – a term which, the Court observed, was ‘not defined’.
- The judgment makes reference to the eight factors by which ‘wellbeing’ is to be measured – safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible, and included (known by the acronym SHANARRI). The Supreme Court observes that, ‘These factors are not themselves defined, and in some cases are notably vague.’
Family Education Trust is an educational charity committed to promoting stable family life and the welfare of children and young people.