Committee Updates April 2015

Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill

Following on from our written evidence, James Mulgrew from our Criminal Law Committee gave oral evidence to the Justice Committee at the Scottish Parliament on 24 March.  We are supportive of the policy intent if the bill, and in particular the desire to prevent and tackle human trafficking and exploitation and make Scotland a hostile place for traffickers.  In the oral evidence session we highlighted our support of a victim-centred approach and that we would favour the introduction of both a statutory defence, which would be available to a person who has committed an offence as a direct consequence of having been trafficked and the possibility of a plea in bar of trial. This would be in addition to the bill’s proposal for a requirement on the Lord Advocate to publish guidelines on prosecuting victims of human trafficking offences.

The full written evidence and a link to the oral evidence session is available on our website

Tax Law Committee Update

The Tax Committee has been particularly engaged over the past month in relation to the implementation of Land and Buildings Transaction Tax. The LBTT working group has attended a number of engagement meetings with Revenue Scotland in the past month to discuss various matters including the interpretation of sections within the Land and Buildings Transaction (Scotland) Act 2013 and the LBTT sign up process. The working group have been busy providing comments and recommendations to Revenue Scotland on the LBTT return guidance and LBTT guidance itself. Volunteers from the working group trainees/paralegals and solicitors from the professional attended a number of sessions at Victoria Quay in March to test the LBTT return system, which went live on 1 April.

The main Tax Committee has also been busy and met with HMRC representatives last month to discuss proposed tax evasion policy. Consultations have also been submitted on Draft Guidance to Extra Statutory Concessions, the proposed Revenue Scotland Charter, Tax Enquiry Closure Rules and Sanctions for Tax Avoidance. Representatives from the Tax Committee also met with UK Government officials within the Scotland Office to discuss the further tax devolution proposals.

All consultation responses can be found on our website

Interception of Communications – Draft Code of Practice

We responded to the above Home Office consultation on draft codes of practice for the interception of communications.  We welcome the introduction of a code of practice and enhanced safeguards.  In our response we note that confidentiality is central to the rule of law, and those seeking legal advice should be assured and have confidence in their legal adviser and that any communications between the two parties remain strictly confidential.  This protection of legal privilege underpins the provision of legal advice.  Currently the Secretary of State can issue a warrant for intercepting communications, without any judicial oversight – it is essential that there should be an application to a court for such a warrant to be issued.  In our response we also highlight that there could be considerable implications in terms of ECHR, as articles 6 and 8 will be engaged if lawyer/client communications are intercepted. 

The full response can be found on our website

Inquiry into the procedures for considering legislation in the Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee undertook an inquiry into the legislative processes of the Scottish Parliament last year, and published its report this month.  We submitted written evidence to the inquiry and our director of law reform Michael Clancy gave oral evidence.  We were pleased to see in the report a number of mentions of our concerns and suggestions, and the acknowledgement that stage 3 of the legislative process is the one that could benefit most from improvement.  It was stated in the report: “The Law Society of Scotland summed up the views of many people in a written submission— “This is the area with the greatest potential for improvement””

The full report can be found on the Scottish Parliament website and our written evidence and a link to our oral evidence can be found on our website

Scotland’s Constitutional Future – the draft clauses

We submitted our response to the UK Government’s draft legislative clauses to implement the Smith Agreement.  We highlighted the issues with clause 1 regarding the permanency of the Scottish Parliament and the challenges that this presents from a legal perspective.  The concept of parliamentary sovereignty means that one parliament cannot bind a future parliament, and while the political will is clear, the current wording of the clause would still allow a future UK Parliament to repeal the original Act which established the Scottish Parliament.  Our director of law reform Michael Clancy gave oral evidence to the House of Commons’ Political and Constitutional Reform Committee on the draft clauses, who in their report made similar remarks, supporting our evidence. 

Our full response to the UK Government legislation and a link to the evidence session is on our website