5 The Provision of Advice to a Children's Hearing by the National Convener
The 2011 Act gives the National Convener the power to provide advice to children's hearings. Advice may be provided in relation to any matter in connection with the functions of a children's hearing. In normal circumstances, this will be in response to questions of law and/or procedure but it may also include issues of practice. The National Convener must not, however, direct or guide a children's hearing.
There is a staged approach in relation to provision of advice by the National Convener: panel members are encouraged to follow the step by step approach as follows:
1 Preparation before the hearing
General advice can be provided by the National Convener to individual panel members prior to their attendance at the hearing centre. The National Convener will make available a range of information to assist with preparation and panel members will also have training materials to consult. In addition, an advisor will be available for panel members to telephone or email. The National Convener is not able to provide advice in relation to specific hearings at this stage. It is anticipated that most questions which would require the advice of the National Convener can be answered at this stage.
2 Discussion with fellow panel members prior to the beginning of the hearing
It is open to panel members to discuss the query with fellow panel members directly prior to the actual hearing at the stage when panel members are setting the agenda for discussion. A fellow panel member may be able to clarify the situation. It is important to note that only clarification and potential options can be discussed and not the substance of the case at this stage. All discussion about the substance of the case and decision making arising out of this must take place within the hearing itself in the presence of the child and their family.
3 Seeking the views of those present at the hearing
In relation to the query, panel members may seek the views of those present at the hearing which may include the reporter, legal representative, other professional and/or the child and their family. The provision of advice by the National Convener is intended to complement the existing roles within a children's hearing, not to replace them. Any person who attends a children's hearing can offer their views on legal or procedural matters. The reporter can clarify or offer a view to a hearing on any legal or procedural matter in line with SCRA's practice instruction for reporters. Any advice provided by the National Convener holds the same weight as an opinion offered by any other person and panel members may choose to disregard the advice from the National Convener or anyone else including the reporter, if they wish to do so.
In the vast majority of situations a combination of good preparation before the hearing and consideration of the views of those present during the hearing should be able to avoid or resolve any matters requiring National Convener advice. However, there will be a very small number of situations where stages 4 and 5 are required. These will likely be highly complex situations which are likely to become apparent from the paperwork made available to the children's hearing or from the discussion which takes place at the hearing particularly if there are conflicting views expressed or no view expressed about the query in question.
4 Adjourning the hearing to refer to the written materials available within the hearing centre.
Written materials will be available in every hearing centre for panel members, or any of the hearing participants, to refer to during a short adjournment of the hearing if required. The Training Resource Manual will also be available which includes:
- the Legislation and Procedure Handbook
- the Children's Hearings Handbook.
5 Deferring the decision of the children's hearing to another day and formally requesting written advice from the National Convener.
This should be a decision of last resort when all other options have been exhausted. In the very small number of situations where specific written advice of the National Convener is required by a children's hearing, the hearing will be deferred and the chairing member will need to complete a form, with the assistance of their fellow panel members, setting out the advice that is required. The children's hearing will then give it to the reporter who will send the completed form to the National Convener within five days of receiving the request. The National Convener must respond to any request for advice within fourteen days and this advice will be made available to all those entitled to receive papers for the next hearing. (Rule 79)
Reflection and Self Assessment
Sometimes individual panel members will have general questions when reflecting on their experiences of being a panel member. The materials provided by the National Convener may answer the question, or the advisor can be contacted by telephone or email for advice of a general nature.