§ Mr. William Ross
Under the provisions of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 most alleged offences by children are brought to the attention of the reporter, who has a duty to arrange a children's hearing where it appears to him that the child is in need of compulsory measures of care. The system of children's hearings is working well in general, but a wider range of residential and other facilities is needed for the increasing number of children being placed under supervision. The measures which are being taken to deal with the situation, for example, through the provision of intermediate treatment, were described by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in the debate on 11th June, and I shall keep the situation under review.
Section 31 of the 1968 Act provides that no child shall be prosecuted for any offence except on the instructions of the Lord Advocate or at his instance. In 1973 court proceedings were taken against 3,192 children, an increase of a third over the figure for 1972. My right hon. and learned Friend and I are concerned that court proceedings against children should be taken only in exceptional circumstances. He has accordingly decided to direct procurators fiscal not to commence proceedings against children under 13 years of age without reference to the Crown Office for his authority, or against children alleged to have committed offences while acting along with an adult unless there are circumstances which make joint prosecution essential.167W
I propose to issue a circular of guidance on the arrangements which should be made by local authority social work departments when a child is the subject of court proceedings. I also propose to have consultations with the organisations concerned about possible changes in the powers and procedures of children's hearings and of the courts in relation to proceedings against children. A number of suggestions for possible changes have been made, some of which could result in a reduction in the number of children prosecuted in the courts; it has been suggested, for example, that the hearings should have power to order the forfeiture of weapons or to order disqualifications from driving. These consultations will deal among other things with the question of strengthening the existing restrictions on the publication of the identity of children who are subject to court proceedings; publication is already prohibited in the majority of cases in which children appear before the courts, and in other cases I would hope that, unless there are exceptional circumstances, full use will be made of the power of the courts to direct that there should be no such publication.