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Book reviews

16 February 09

Reviews of The Scottish Children's Hearings System in Action (Kearney); The Legal System of Scotland (Manson-Smith)

by Morag Driscoll, Lorraine Barrie

Sheriff Kearney’s latest book is likely to be just as useful as his Children’s Hearings and the Sheriff Court. This work is aimed at a very wide audience, and should be required reading for anyone involved in any way in the hearing system. As an ex-reporter I found The Scottish Children’s Hearings System in Action full of useful information and clear analysis of each stage of the process of a case through the system.

Sheriff Kearney has taken a novel approach, and one that works very well. He has devised two cases – the first, one of two girls who allege sexual abuse, and the second, a boy accused of criminal offences. The text follows each case through the system. The device is a clever one, as it allows the author to explore the different types of case which pass through the system. The end result is an easy and interesting read which lawyers and non-lawyers should find very useful. Any trainee in a firm which does this area of work should read this book. Panel members, social workers and new reporters should be given it as part of their training.

In the first case, the alleged sexual abuse, the sheriff follows the case from the initial protection measures by the local authority by means of child protection orders, through the hearing system from initial second working day hearing, warrants and the sheriff court hearing to consider the grounds for referral. At each stage he examines the decision making of the various professionals, and provides the court and hearings forms and paperwork, with explanation and analysis of the legal requirements, statute and case law. He follows the work of the professionals: social work, the reporter, the solicitor for the girls’ mother and the sheriff. This is one of the strengths of this book, as all too often professionals only understand the bit of the system that they deal with and lack a clear picture of how their bit fits in.

The second case, the criminal offences, follows the subject from the initial accusations through the referrals and to the court hearing of the evidence. This part of the book should be particularly useful for the non-lawyers – especially reporters – and for the trainee solicitor who hopes to undertake this work.

There were some regional practice variations in the hearings, which as someone who worked in the East Region I did not recognise, but these do not affect the value of the book. Sheriff Kearney may not have missed his calling as a playwright – his children are remarkably well educated and articulate in their speech – but he does capture the flow and complexity of hearings.

If you are a safeguarder, a legal representative or work within the hearings system I would heartily recommend this book. If your firm undertakes hearings work and you have trainees, ensure that they read it before they start.

Morag Driscoll, Director, Scottish Child Law Centrer

 

 

The Legal System of Scotland: 4th edition

 

 

PUBLISHER: CONSUMER FOCUS SCOTLAND

 

ISBN: 0 11 497347 6

 

PRICE: £3.95

 

 

The Legal System of Scotland sets out to provide an overview of the Scottish legal system for non-lawyers in plain English. The book, now in its fourth edition, goes through the origins of Scots law and the different branches of law. In short and clearly marked chapters, the author takes the reader through the judicial system, personnel working in the law, protection for the public and the legal aid system. There are specific chapters on civil and criminal procedure, alternative dispute resolution and tribunals.

The chapter on civil procedure is particularly good. It provides a clear explanation of different types of court action, the remedies available, forms of diligence and who can appear in court and when. Similarly, the chapter on protection for the public, which details the professional standards clients can expect from solicitors and the disciplinary rules governing advocates, is easy to read. At the end of each chapter, a list of further reading is provided.

I do have a few criticisms: there is a lot of text and I think the author could have used diagrams more often, for example to show the rights of appeal from civil courts, or sources of law, in a more user-friendly way.

At times, the language could be framed more simply. For example p 2 has: “in civilian systems the rules of law are derived from first principles as expounded by the authoritative writings of jurists”, without going on to explain the meaning of “first principles” or “jurists”.

I would have struggled to understand this sentence had I not studied jurisprudence. If the book is aimed at non-lawyers, it should be easily understandable by non-lawyers.

These criticisms aside, this book provides a good general introduction to the Scottish legal system. And at only £3.95, it is affordable for all.

Lorraine Barrie, Govan Law Centre, Glasgow

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