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Civil & Family Law

1991-1997

1991
Citizens Charter
. Announced by John Major in July. The earliest of a series of individual charters were those for the Health Service, and contained pledges of guaranteed performance targets and greater information for patients, quickly expanded to cover most public services and local authorities. 

Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act

Child Support Act. Central legal concept is that of the ‘qualifying child’. A person only counts as a ‘child’ if under 16, or under 19 and receiving full-time non-advanced education, or under 18 and registered for work or youth training while the parent is claiming Child Benefit in respect of the child. In Scotland, a child aged 12 or more can apply for a maintenance assessment under §7 of the Child Support (Scotland) Act. 

Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act. Under Scots Law (in contrast to the law in E&W), young people have full (or ‘active’) legal capacity at 16 years, but the court may ratify or set aside transactions by those under 18 if it is considered ‘prejudicial’ (defined in the Act as one that an adult acting with ‘reasonable prudence’ in the same set of circumstances would not have entered into). The court can set aside such a transaction until the young person reaches 21 years of age. There are 4 main exceptions to the general rule: a child under 16 may enter into a transaction ‘commonly’ entered into by persons of that age (e.g. buying sweets or railway tickets) but not unusual contracts (such as the purchase of a bike or computer); a child aged 12 or over can make a will; the consent of a child aged 12 or over is required for an adoption order to be made in his/her respect; a transaction includes giving any consent giving legal effect (such as consent to medical treatment). A child of any age has ‘passive’ capacity, for example, the right to own heritable and moveable property. The Act also had the effect of replacing the term ‘minor’ with ‘age 16’ in certain statutes. 

1993
All-Party Parliamentary Group on Parenting set up. 

Revised Code of Practice to Mental Health Act 1983 published. Sets out the principles under which under-18s should be treated, including keeping them fully informed; having the right to make their own decisions when they have sufficient ‘understanding and intelligence’; and that any intervention should be the least restrictive possible with the least possible segregation from family, friends, community and school. 

National Lottery Act (§12)/National Lottery regulations (SI 1994 No. 189). Under-16s prohibited from buying lottery tickets. 

1994
Parliamentary Hearings on the Family. 

1995
Air Navigation
(No. 2) Order SI 1995/1970. Under-16s may not act as a pilot of a glider, and under-17s may not hold a pilot’s licence. 

Report of the Gaming Board for Great Britain recommended raising the minimum age for the legal purchase of lottery tickets to 18 years. 

Looking to the Future: Mediation and the Ground for Divorce White Paper published. Proposed to abolish fault in divorce and greater use of mediation. 

1995
Children (Scotland) Act
. Defines child as a person under 18. Parental responsibilities under the Act supersede analogous common law duties imposed on parents but do not replace specific statutory duties. Parental rights end when the child reaches 16. Parental responsibilities or duties end also end at that age except the responsibility to give a child guidance, which lasts until a young person reaches 18. A child’s mother automatically has parental responsibilities and rights in relation to her child. It does not matter that she was never married to the child’s father and her age is irrelevant. A child’s father automatically obtains parental responsibilities and rights only if he is or was married to the child’s mother at the date of the child’s conception or at any time thereafter. On reaching 16, a young person can choose his or her own religion, while parents only maintain the responsibility to guide their child on such matters. Parents have a prima facie right to consent to medical treatment on their child’s behalf in fulfilment of their responsibility to safeguard and promote their child’s health (but the exercise of this right is subject to the welfare principle). When a child reaches 16, s/he can consent or refuse on their own behalf (under Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991), but they may also have capacity before the age of 16 under the same Act. §25 provides authority to assist homeless young people. The Local Authority has a potential duty towards homeless 16/17 year-olds provided that it appears that no-one has parental responsibility; that the child is lost or abandoned; that the child’s carer is prevented from providing suitable accommodation or care (§25 only states that the accommodation is expected to be provided for more than 24 hours continuously). Local authorities have a power, but not a duty, to look after young people to safeguard or promote their welfare. §22 defines aspects of the welfare provisions for children and replaces §12 of the SW (Scotland) Act 1968. There is now a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are in need; and, so far as it is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families. It is made explicit that Local Authority services which can be accessed through §22 include ‘assistance in kind or, in exceptional circumstances, in cash’ where conditions may be imposed by §22(4). §12 of the 1968 Act has long been used to provide cash in dire emergencies to homeless young people who are destitute and where there are problems getting Severe Hardship Payments. Child retains the right to consent or withhold consent to medical examination or treatment (§90 and §2(4) of the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act). A new section added to the 1991 Act states that any child under 16 years, if s/he has sufficient understanding of the nature and consequences of the proceedings, now has legal capacity to instruct a solicitor in connection with any civil matter. A Parental Responsibility Order means that LAs now have to initiate proceedings in court to take parental responsibilities and rights (under the 1968 Act the transfer of parental rights was achieved by means of an administrative resolution of the Local Authority Social Services Committee). The right to act as a child’s legal representative is one of the rights and responsibilities which prima facie parents have in respect of their children, §1(1)(d) and 2(1)(d). 

1997
Young Volunteer Development Programme. Funded for 2 years from March. 

Utting Report (People Like Us) on looked-after young people published. (see also 1988) Ministerial Group on the Family announced at Labour Party Conference (Chaired by Jack Straw, Home Secretary).