Children’s services inspectors in Scotland could be prosecuted for failing to carry the correct paperwork because executive officials bungled the drafting of new regulations.
Under one part of the Joint Inspections (Scotland) Regulations 2006, inspectors must produce an authorisation notice if requested, but another makes it an offence for them not to do so.
An amendment to correct the error has been tabled but it could take several months for it to be passed.
In the meantime, the first four joint inspections of children’s services involving the Social Work Inspection Agency and Inspectorate of Education will have started, and inspectors could be charged with an offence if they fail to produce the documents.
Deputy education minister Robert Brown told the Scottish parliament’s education committee that officials had incorrectly worded part of the regulations intended to apply to people obstructing inspectors’ entry to premises. He admitted it was an “embarrassment”, but played down its significance.
“Inspectors should carry documentation but human beings can forget and I wouldn’t want criminal offences created unnecessarily by that mistake,” he said.
“But the situation would have to arise where an inspector came along without documentation and then for someone to report it. I think [the risk of that] is minimal.”
Despite the problem, the committee backed the draft regulations after Brown warned that it would take three months to redraft them, further delaying the start of joint inspections.
But committee member Andrew Welsh said it was a “major mistake”.
Ruth Stark, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers Scotland, said the mistake highlighted the problems that could arise when regulations were drafted too quickly.
“I’m not surprised. There’s a lesson to be learned about taking more time and care. Now inspectors will have to be very careful because of the way the law stands.”
A Scottish executive spokesperson said: “In practical terms this would never have been an issue because inspectors, as a matter of course, would always take appropriate documentation with them.”