Christian organisations have given thanks after the Supreme Court pronounced the Scottish government’s controversial Named Person scheme plans unlawful. In an historic decision the five judges, including two from Scotland, unanimously struck down the central provisions of the scheme, in a landmark judgment in July.
The Christian Institute and others v. The Lord Advocate (Scotland) was written by senior Scottish judges Lord Reed and Lord Hodge, along with deputy president of the Supreme Court Lady Hale. The whole judgment was then agreed by two other Supreme Court judges.
It is the first time the Supreme Court has prevented a major piece of legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament from coming into force, and the Scottish government has no opportunity to appeal.
Evangelical Times has often reported on the failings of these proposals, which would have seen every child in Scotland assigned a state guardian to monitor their wellbeing, and, at the same time, side-lining the influence of parents or parental guardians.
The court stated the data-sharing provisions of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act breach the right to a private and family life, under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Christian Institute co-ordinated the successful legal action, after which Colin Hart, director, called the ruling a ‘vindication’ of what the Institute and others had been saying for years.
He said: ‘This is a devastating blow for the Scottish government, which sought to brush off all criticism of its Named Person scheme as scaremongering. The court stated that “within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way”.
‘This strong endorsement of family autonomy will be welcomed by families all across the UK, including Christian families, who sometimes sense a creeping intolerance from government officials’.
In March 2016, a poll on behalf of the Christian Institute found nearly two-thirds of Scots believed it was an ‘unacceptable intrusion’ into family life.
The move was also welcomed by the Family Education Trust. Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, one of the four charities which brought the case to the UK Supreme Court, said: ‘We warmly welcome the court’s recognition that the Named Person scheme represents a disproportionate intrusion into family life and undermines parents’.
He added: ‘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’.
The judgment further stated 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.
Mr Wells commented, ‘There was always a 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’.
CARE, another campaigner who participated in the judicial review, expressed relief at the UK Supreme Court’s findings. In a statement, it said: ‘Our concern was the scheme undermined the rights of parents and children by allowing the sharing of sensitive personal information without consent, on the very subjective grounds that to do so would enhance wellbeing.
‘We are grateful to God for this decision by the Supreme Court and are pleased to note that the emphasis in the judgment on the protection of the family and the child not being a “mere creature of the state” is a reminder of how Christian teaching about parents and children has influenced our legal freedoms’.