Mind the Rights Gap – Upholding the human rights of children who are in conflict with the law

March 28th 2022

Thanks to funding from The Promise Partnership’s ‘A Good Childhood’ fund, Clan Childlaw is launching a project to explore in detail the legal needs of under 18s in Scotland who are accused of offending. The project will consider the need for specialist rights-focused lawyers to work alongside criminal lawyers in order to uphold the human rights of children who are in conflict with the law. We will examine what good legal help might look like for these children and aim to establish the model for a legal service which will meet their needs and respect their rights.   

As Scotland’s only law centre for children and young people, Clan Childlaw offers specialist child-centred legal help. Our lawyers help with issues like housing and homelessness, parental rights, seeing brothers and sisters, and leaving care. We regularly attend children’s hearings, including for young people who have displayed offending type behaviour. We protect the rights of the children we work with and make sure their voices are heard.

Currently, there is no comparable service in Scotland offering this kind of child-centred legal help to protect the rights of children who are accused of offending and who are going through the court system. Clan Childlaw is concerned about breaches to the human rights of under 18s who are being held in adult detention facilities and going through the adult justice system. We are also concerned that care experienced children who have been accused of offending may have difficulty accessing their rights as care leavers. We believe that there is an urgent need for specialist legal representation for these children which acknowledges their rights and legal status as children or young people; takes a holistic view of their legal needs; and is informed by knowledge about child development and trauma.

Clan Childlaw has commissioned Dr Claire Lightowler to lead this project. Claire was the Director of the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) from 2013-2021. During this time she published a major report, Rights Respecting? Scotland’s approach to children in conflict with the law, which explored whether Scotland was complying with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and what it would look like if children’s rights formed the basis of Scotland’s approach to children who are in conflict with the law. Claire called for urgent action and a commitment to change across Scotland when she delivered the 2022 Kilbrandon lecture.

Alison Reid, Chief Executive and Principal Solicitor at Clan Childlaw, said:

“I co-founded Clan Childlaw over a decade ago after realising how inaccessible and off-putting traditional law firms were for children and young people. I believe that all children, including those who are in conflict with the law, deserve to have access to child-friendly legal services and to lawyers who specialise in representing them. Thanks to funding from The Promise Scotland, I am proud that Clan Childlaw is now leading this work to reimagine what legal support should look like for under 18s who are accused of offending in Scotland. To begin with we will focus on issues which have already been identified in terms of possible breaches to human rights, such as the way children are treated when they are deprived of their liberty.”

Dr Claire Lightowler said:

“I am delighted to be undertaking this work with Clan Childlaw. Children in conflict with the law, like all children, are rights holders. They are entitled to their rights and should have their rights upheld. This project is an important step towards meeting the needs of children who are in conflict with the law and ensuring their rights are respected.”

Get in touch

Do you want to share your experiences of legal representation? Do you have ideas about what good legal help looks like for children who are in conflict with the law? Are you already working with children accused of offending and are interested in partnering with us or sharing your knowledge and experience? Get in touch with Claire Lightowler on claire.lightowler@clanchildlaw.org.