§ [No. 172.]
§ After Clause 59, insert the following new clause:
§ "Power of reporters to conduct proceedings before a sheriff
§ 36A. The Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate may, by regulations—
- (a) empower officers or any officer or class of officers appointed under section 36 of this Act, whether or not they are advocates or solicitors, to conduct before a sheriff—
- (i) any proceedings which, under this Act, arc heard by the sheriff in chambers;
- (ii) any application under section 37 or 40 of this Act in relation to a warrant;
- (b) prescribe such requirements as they think fit as to qualifications, training or experience necessary for any officer to be so empowered."."
§ Lord WINTERBOTTOM
My Lords, with the permission ofthe House, I would move Amendment No. 172 and speak to Amendment No. 287. This again is taking us North of the Border. The Amendments give the Secretary of State for Scotland, jointly with the Lord Advocate, powers to deal with a difficulty which has arisen in connection with the Scottish system of children's hearings which were introduced in 1971 as broadly the equivalent to care proceedings in England and Wales. The new provision would allow the making of regulations 1312 to provide that reporters—this, I understand, is a Scottish term, nothing to do with the Press—to children's hearings, whether or not they are advocates or solicitors, should be able to conduct before the sheriff court proceedings arising from children's hearings. 11. would also allow requirements to be prescribed as to the qualifications, training or experience necessary for reporters who are given this power.
Ever since the children's hearings system began in 1971, many courts have allowed reporters who were not advocates or solicitors to appear before the sheriff in applications and appeals. In July of this year, however, the Court of Session decided on appeal that as no clear right of audience on the part of reporters had been conferred by the Social Work (Scotland) Act1968, the normal rules of audience must apply; namely, that only solicitors or advocates may appear before the sheriff. The effect of the Court of Session judgment has been that reporters may now have to take steps to instruct outside solicitors or solicitors from other local government departments to proceed with applications to the sheriff.
The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord Advocate propose to make early regulations under the new power allowing reporters with a year's experience to conduct the relevant proceedings before the sheriff. Concurrently with the making of these regulations, the Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate propose to enter into discussion with all the interested legal and social work bodies on a range of matters relating to the training. qualifications or experience of reporters.
If we turn to Amendment No. 287, this contains a minor consequential Amendment to Section 49(3) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, to make it clear that, notwithstanding that a reporter maybe presenting a case before the sheriff, he may still he formally examined by him. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Lord Winterbottom.)
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
My Lords, I am very glad to read these Amendments. Ever since the hearings started and the reporters have been engaged in their work, there has been a certain amount of criticism that certain 1313 cases should go before the sheriff rather than go before the children's panel. I think this will be very valuable indeed. There may be some difficulty in getting the right kind of training, because the reporters on the whole have been selected by the sheriffs, by virtue of their knowing a certain amount about social work and about children's work, and being J.P.' s and so on, but they have not had the same sort of training as the advocate. On the other hand, I think it is most important that they should be able to take their case before the sheriff if and when it seems to be the right thing to do. I think these Amendments made in the other place, which presumably have the support of the Scottish Office, will be very valuable indeed.