The UK Supreme Court has help up the Scottish government’s ‘named person’ service.
The scheme was proposed by the majority Scottish National Party (SNP). It allocates a ‘named person’ such as a teacher or NHS worker for everyone under 18 years old in Scotland. Such people would be responsible for the wellbeing of the children they were assigned to.
Four registered family charities objected to the scheme and wanted a judicial review. Once their application was rejected, they sought to appeal the decision but were turned down by both Houses of Scotland’s Court of Session. Undeterred, they took their case to the Supreme Court.
The charities claimed the scheme was “outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament” and “is incompatible with rights under the European Convention on Human Rights” (ECHR).
The justices of the Supreme Court allowed the appeal. They said that some provisions of the scheme did indeed breach the right to privacy and a family life under the ECHR despite the intentions behind it being “unquestionably legitimate and benign”.
Provisions in the scheme would make it possible for a named person to disclose “confidential information concerning a child or young person’s state of health”, including pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, without their knowledge.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister John Swinney appeared undeterred by the Supreme Court’s ruling. He said the decision simply required the government “to provide greater clarity about the basis on which health visitors, teachers and other professionals supporting families will share and receive information in their named person role”.
The scheme will be “implemented nationally at the earliest possible date”, Swinney insisted, once the government has made “the necessary legislative amendments” following this case.
That may not be as easy as he suggests. The concerns of the Supreme Court were clearly manifest.
As Lady Hale said:
“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.”
Read the full Supreme Court judgment here.