The Scottish government has failed to address key concerns about the implementation of its getting it right for every child (GIRFEC) policy and allied named person scheme, joint petitioners have stated in a written submission to MSPs in support of their call for a public inquiry into the human rights impact of the data-driven regime.
Lesley Scott of Tymes Trust and Alison Preuss of the Scottish Home Education Forum have questioned the government’s version of events, which led to the lowering of the legal threshold for using children’s and families’ personal data without their consent and without reference to parliament or independent legal advice.
The petitioners believe that vital points remain unaddressed in responses from both the Scottish government and the information commissioner’s office (ICO) to the Holyrood’s public petitions committee.
They say the government has sought to duck responsibility and heap blame on the ICO for issuing unlawful advice – described in public GIRFEC board minutes as a ‘joint statement’ – which had to be withdrawn in the wake of a landmark Supreme Court judgment in 2016.
Alison Preuss said:
“A crucial missing piece of the jigsaw is a meeting between GIRFEC officials and the ICO in November 2012, which set in train a data-sharing free-for-all a year before the 2014 Children and Young People (Scotland) Act was passed and three years before its information-sharing provisions were due to come into force.
“Since freedom of information requests have revealed that no minutes were taken, the only realistic way to determine what was agreed and by whom is through a public inquiry, where known attendees can be invited to recall details of discussions that had such catastrophic consequences for families.”
Lesley Scott said:
“Families want and deserve to know why and how their human rights have been, and are still being, breached through the early implementation of this unlawful policy. There can be no true accountability without a public inquiry nor can responsibility be properly apportioned for this ongoing debacle.”
The joint submission highlights that the ICO’s advice from March 2013, which was promptly circulated by government GIRFEC officials, remains embedded in current policies, including national child protection guidance, despite it never having been in accordance with the law and being formally withdrawn two years ago.
According to the petitioners, that leaves children and families highly vulnerable to ongoing abuses of power by named persons and other practitioners, whose training has mandated the routine breaching of their human rights for the past five years.
The petitioners have also criticised the government for misrepresenting the Supreme Court judgment by failing to differentiate between the non-contentious aim of promoting wellbeing and the unlawful data-mining scheme they had sought to implement.
They further point out that GIRFEC is not rooted in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), as claimed by the government, but is based on state-dictated outcomes and a vague notion of wellbeing that is open to such wide and subjective interpretation that it invites discrimination and amounts to arbitrary interference in family life.