COUNCILS trialling the controversial named person scheme should be "quaking in their boots" over a potential deluge of legal action after legislation the policy is based on was found to be illegal, campaigners have warned.

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court yesterday said that SNP plan to assign a state-appointed figure to look out for the welfare of every child in Scotland will have to be drastically overhauled as it breaches human rights legislation in its current form.

The decision means that the named person will no longer be rolled out nationwide next month as originally planned. Ministers pledged to make changes to ensure the law does not overstep legal boundaries when sharing information about children and families, but insisted the scheme would still be brought in "as soon as possible."

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However, the service was already up and running in several areas, including the Highlands, Edinburgh and Lanarkshire, with council chiefs yesterday urgently reviewing the judgement over fears data protection or human rights laws have already been breached.

It was found that the law, passed in 2014 at Holyrood, handed the state disproportionate power to share sensitive private information without the need to inform children or parents, in breach of article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights which guarantees the right to privacy and a family life.

Simon Calvert, a spokesman for the No to Named Persons (NO2NP) campaign, said: "The point is there are local authorities that have been running named person pilot schemes on the expectation that this law would come into force. They have in practice been sharing data at the much lower level enshrined in the named person law. What the Supreme Court said today is that kind of data sharing is unlawful.

"So, those local authorities should be quaking in their boots, they should be worried, very worried, about parents making subject access requests and finding out data has been shared on them in breach of the data protection and human rights law. They should be worried parents are going to sue them."

Following a long-running legal battle, the court did not rule against the principle or aims of the named person policy, which it said are "unquestionably legitimate and benign", but made clear that legislation would have to be amended and guidance significantly tightened to ensure that named persons acted proportionately and legally, with the Scottish Government told that in the meantime "defective provisions... cannot be brought into force".

It was warned that had the law been implemented as drafted, parents may have been given the impression that they were under an obligation to take advice from named persons, usually teachers or health visitors, and that the threshold was set too low for agencies to share sensitive information, potentially around a young person's sexual health or pregnancy, secretly.

The ruling represents a significant victory for campaigners against the law, who called for it to be immediately abandoned, and a blow to the SNP. The Scottish Government has maintained its commitment to named persons in the face of a public backlash and accused opponents of scaremongering, although the judgement backed up some critics' warnings over the potential for unreasonable state interference in family life.

Campaigners highlighted a passage in the verdict, discussing the importance of legal rights to privacy and family life, which stated: "The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way."

An Edinburgh Council spokeswoman, asked about the implications for the named person policy it is already operating, said last night: "Will carefully examine the content of the judgement together with our partner agencies and will take joint decisions regarding its implications for current practice."

Bill Alexander, Director of Care and Learning at Highland Council, where the named person scheme has been in operation for years, said he believed his authority had been operating within the law after taking legal advice.

He said: "I will expect that both the Information Commissioner’s Office, and the Scottish Government, will make statements in the next couple of days that will confirm for them what best practice involves. Obviously we will take full account of that, I don’t anticipate that will mean any changes in Highland."

The Scottish Liberal Democrats called for Holyrood to be reconvened over the summer and for a vote on any changes to the legislation. The court gave both parties 42 days to "address the matters raised in the judgment" in writing.

John Swinney, the deputy First Minister, said: "The court’s ruling requires us to provide greater clarity about the basis on which health visitors, teachers and other professionals supporting families will share and receive information in their named person role. We will start work on this immediately so we can make the necessary legislative amendments. The service will be implemented nationally at the earliest possible date."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman added: "The policy of providing a named person service has been judged by the Supreme Court to be entirely legitimate. The Supreme Court’s ruling requires changes to be made to the information sharing provisions of the 2014 Act, which have not yet commenced.

"The judgment does not relate to current practice in relation to information sharing. Clearly public authorities must comply with the requirements of relevant legislation, such as the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act, when providing services to children and families."