‘Named Person ruling raises wider issue of family rights’

Comment, by Colin HartDirector of The Christian Institute

A growing number of parents in England have discovered that local councils are being told when they have taken a child to an Accident and Emergency department.

This is happening even where the emergency is quickly resolved and the child is at no further risk of harm. In other words, there is routine sharing of private and personal information between the NHS and local councils.

In Scotland things have progressed even further. One mother was astonished to find that a report on her child’s dyslexia also recorded his attendance at Sunday School.

Christian parents will want to give thanks to God for the remarkable ruling from the Supreme Court striking down the central plank of what has been called “the Named Person scheme”.

The ruling will have implications for all public bodies in the UK, from dentists and hospitals to schools and local councils.

The Named Person scheme

Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney repeatedly talk up the Named Person scheme as if it was a service providing a single point of contact for parents who are seeking help from the state. Nobody is objecting to this.

But that’s not what the legislation says and it’s not how the Named Person approach has been implemented across Scotland. Named persons have been appointed for every single child in pilot areas. And problems are emerging all the time.

One father, a respected academic, found out that a 60-page report had been written on his family, including derogatory comments about his son’s runny nose and nappy rash.

A mother, after being told that she would not be able to take her new-born son home until she had a meeting with officials, was shocked to discover that a 120-page report had been written about her. Innocuous incidents had been secretly recorded as matters for concern.

The undermining of basic freedom

Nothing could be more basic to our society than the institution of the family. Marriage pre-dates the nation state. The married family should be the bedrock of our society. Parents have a natural authority over their children which must be respected. Their freedoms should be defended by the state.

The prophet Daniel speaks of those who “change the set times and the laws” (Daniel 7:25) whilst Isaiah speaks against those who have “violated the statutes” (Isaiah 24:5). The sense is of rulers who go against the most foundational laws that God has laid down.

That’s exactly what the Named Person scheme would have done. Parents would have lost their God-given autonomy. State-appointed guardians were to be legally empowered to give advice to children over the heads of their parents. Parental consent was deemed irrelevant. The role of parents was usurped.

Yes, there are extreme cases where the state should intervene in family life. But, rightly, the law sets the threshold high. A child has to be at risk of significant harm. But that high bar was dispensed with by the Named Person scheme. All that was needed was for a named person to have a concern about a child’s wellbeing – defined in guidance as ‘happiness’.

The Supreme Court has upheld the law

In our long history, Britain has had monarchs who acted capriciously; who have failed to protect our basic freedoms. That is why the national anthem carries the prayer, “May she defend our laws”.

The courts must not make the law. They have not done so in this case. The judges have upheld the law – they have defended our laws.

The Supreme Court found that crucial protections for family privacy had been set aside by the Scottish state guardian legislation. Quite properly, the Court has performed its constitutional role.

If it had not done so, Scotland would have been the only part of the UK where the Data Protection Act could be ignored.

The Court hasn’t made any new law, rather it has enforced the will of Parliament that passed the Data Protection Act.

Christians can give thanks to God for this ruling.

The Big Brother scheme is history

Listening to Deputy First Minister John Swinney yesterday, you could be forgiven for thinking he had won the legal action and all that was necessary was some minor tweaking of the law.

In fact the Supreme Court has found that the unlawful sharing of private family information is at the centre of the scheme. It has seen through the spin and bluster. The ends don’t justify the means.

The Big Brother scheme is history. The judgment will need to be studied carefully. We’re not sure what will be left once the unlawful clauses are stripped out of the legislation, but it will be a shadow of the full-blown scheme that was originally proposed.

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