4 The Hearing - the beginning
The main responsibility for the first part of the hearing falls to the chairing member but the other panel members should be fully aware of and alert to the process. Please see the Step by Step Procedures for Children's Hearings and Pre-Hearing Panels.
There are certain legal requirements that must be covered and these should be done as clearly and succinctly as possible so that everyone understands what is happening and why. Children and families will have a better understanding if the chairing member introduces him or herself, the others present and then checks who else is present, making it clear in what capacity they are there. The reporter should make their own introduction and SCRA have a standard format for this. If there is a potential observer without a right to attend, it should not be assumed that they can have entrance into the hearing. This is a decision for the hearing who will take the views of the family on board before reaching a decision. All observers who do not have a right to attend the hearing should therefore wait outwith the room until a decision has been made about whether they will be admitted. Any decision about observers should be made at the start of the hearing in consultation with the child and any relevant persons. No observers without a right to attend are allowed to have admittance if the child or any relevant person objects to their presence.
At the beginning of the hearing the chairing member must:
- introduce the members of the children's hearing and explain the purpose of the hearing
- check that the child, each relevant person and any safeguarder has received all relevant information and documents required by the Rules
- confirm whether the child, each relevant person and any safeguarder has had the opportunity to read and consider these reports and whether these have been understood by the child and each relevant person
- ask the child whether the papers accurately reflect their views - unless the chairing member considers it inappropriate to do so given the child's age and maturity. If the child confirms that the reports do not accurately reflect the child's views the chairing member must try to clarify what the child's views are.
The hearing may also wish to tell the child and each relevant person that:
- the hearing can talk to the child on his or her own in order to obtain their views
- during the course of the hearing, panel members will be considering whether a safeguarder needs to be appointed- a safeguarder is an independent person who becomes party to the hearing process if the hearing thinks it is necessary to safeguard the interests of the child
- if anyone is unsure about what is being said or is happening, people can ask for things to be explained.
The tone that is set at the beginning can influence how the rest of the hearing is conducted.
If a panel member discovers at the hearing that individuals are known to him/her ( e.g. when they come into the hearing room), they should declare this before the hearing starts. Knowledge of individuals cannot be avoided. The family should be given an opportunity to consider the matter in private and the views of the child and relevant persons taken into account. A children's hearing may proceed to consider an interim decision if it is necessary to safeguard the best interests of the child but this should be clearly recorded in the reasons and why the hearing considered it best to proceed.