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Major Review of the Scottish Family Law Potentially Required- Justice Committee

A new report from Holyrood’s Justice Committee has warned that a “wholesale” review of Scots Family Law may be required following concerns about the effectiveness of family law in the country.

In an analysis of the Family Law Scotland 2006 Act, the Justice Committee took evidence from many different legal practitioners, representatives from different family law groups and some organisations with an interest in family law.

Focussing on cohabitation, parental rights and parental responsibilities, the committee scrutinised family law in Scotland including a number of concerns and issues that had arisen with the legislation in the past.

Concern over the Current State of Family Law

The committee analysed current legislation and the impact that some laws had on the welfare of children with certain provisions being suggested to improve the law and protection of children. Further concerns mentioned by the committee was the fact that many aspects of Scottish family law were exceptionally outdated with some of the laws being more than 20 years old. There were further calls to review how the law is applied and the tools that could be used to resolve disputes.

Justice committee convener Christine Grahame MSP said: “It appears that the current legislative framework can give rise to adversarial disputes which can make a bad situation worse. Whether that is down to how the law is framed or how it is applied is open to debate.

“Overall though it is clear that the way in which the Scottish legal system handles family law cases involving children raises strong and conflicting views.

“With the main legislation on child law now arguably beginning to show its age, it may be time for a wholesale review, focussed as much on how the law is applied, and the mechanism used to resolve disputes, as on what the law says.

“In particular, we consider that cases would benefit from increased use of mediation and, where possible, being heard by specialist family law sheriffs.”

Speaking on cohabitation, she added: “Stakeholders welcome the new rights for cohabitants enshrined in the 2006 Act. They have helped family law in Scotland adapt to modern times.

“However, we heard concerns that the legislation is insufficiently clear and that lawyers sometimes struggle to tell separating couples what they can actually expect from the provisions.

“More generally, we have heard of confusion from the general public about the state of the law on adult relationships – cohabitation, marriage and civil partnerships, which have changed significantly in recent years. It has been argued that changes have been piecemeal to the extent that the law now lacks coherence and purpose.

“By necessity, this has been a brief examination of the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 and it offers a snapshot of stakeholders’ opinions ten years on.

“This short report is, in effect, a report to our successors on the next Justice Committee. It sets out views on aspects of family law covered in the 2006 Act they may wish to consider in more depth in the next session.”

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