January 2015

Prisoners (Control of Release) (Scotland) Bill

The bill ends the right of certain long-term prisoners to automatic early release from prison at the two-thirds point of their sentences and allows prisoners serving all but very short sentences to be released from prison on a particular day suitable for their re-integration into the community. 

The Society’s Criminal Law Committee states in its evidence that the most coherent reason for the existence of a system of mandatory release on licence prior to the expiry of the entire sentence is that it allows a degree of testing in the community while offenders are subject to conditions, breach of which can result in a return to custody.  The Committee questions why the proposals within the Bill should only apply to certain categories of long-term prisoner.

In the Committee’s view, there is no conclusive evidence that the nature of the offence committed, or the sentence imposed, is in itself a reliable indicator of future risk. Indeed, there is some evidence that those serving the longest sentences are proportionately less likely to reoffend in a serious manner than those convicted of lesser offences.  The Committee also highlights the reference that ‘sex offenders pose a particular risk to the public’ but states that this is far from clear that this is correct and goes on to highlight evidence from the Parole Board annual reports which appear to dispel that proposition.

The full written evidence can be found on our website

Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill

The bill was introduced into the Westminster Parliament at the end of November by Home Secretary Theresa May, and given its second reading on 2 December.  The Society submitted a second reading letter, highlighting its concerns around the use of the ‘fast track’ procedure and the apparent speed of the bill’s legislative passage, given the provisions of the bill have significant implications on the fundamental rights of citizens. 

The bill, which is comprised of seven parts, introduces a number of measures to restrict the movement of individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism related activities. It provides the power to seize the passport of a British citizen at any border control where there is reasonable grounds to believe the person is leaving the United Kingdom for the purpose of engaging in terrorism related activity.

It also provides the power to prevent a British citizen from re-entering the United Kingdom who is suspected of being involved in terrorism activity whilst abroad. In addition to the new provisions, the bill amends and extends a number of existing powers relating to the monitoring and controlling of persons suspected of being involved in terrorism related activity. 

The Society raises concerns around the introduction of a system of Temporary Exclusion Orders, an order requiring an individual with the right of abode not to return to the UK.  This raises ECHR issues and the Society highlights that consideration must be given to how the provisions of the bill ensure an individual’s human rights are upheld.  

A fuller brief will be provided ahead of Committee stage, the full letter can be found on our website.

Tax Committee

The Society’s Tax Committee was particularly active in December. The convener of the Committee, Isobel D’Inverno, provided oral evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee to assist its enquiry into the devolution of further fiscal powers. In particular, it was noted that Annual Tax on Enveloped Dwellings was a matter that was suitable for further devolution, despite not being included within the Smith Commission. However, the mechanics of the Smith proposal that Holyrood should receive a proportion of the VAT raised in Scotland, was a matter that required close consideration. The Committee also provided comments to the consultation on the proposed Revenue Scotland Charter of Values. Proportionality, transparency and good faith are key principles that the Committee suggests should be at the Charter’s core.

The working group established to help ensure that the implementation of Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (LBTT) is as smooth as possible, has also had a very active month. In addition to the monthly meetings the group has been holding with representatives from Revenue Scotland over the past 12 months, they have annotated and provided examples to draft LBTT legislative guidance which is set to be published before 1 April.

The guidance extends to nine chapters on the operation of LBTT and includes an overview of how the tax works, explains how to make an LBTT return and has detailed provisions with respect to leases. The group also attended a session at the Scottish Government’s offices to see a demonstration of how the LBTT online return system will operate. They were encouraged by the prototype they were shown, noting its intuitiveness and user friendly format.

All consultation responses and links to the oral evidence sessions can be found on our website

Consultation on e-cigarettes and strengthening tobacco control

The Society’s Health and Medical Law Committee responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the regulation of e-cigarettes.  The Society is fully supportive of the general policy aims of the consultation but did question whether there was public support for the proposal of regulation, questioning divergent views on both their safety and efficacy, as well as whether or not enforcement is effective and feasible.  The Committee did state that the minimum age for sale should be restricted to 18 years of age, in line with that of the current legislation for traditional tobacco products, and that any offences should apply to the retailer rather than the young person attempting to buy the product. 

The consultation also covers the issue of smoking in cars where there are children.  The Society is of the view that it should be an offence for an adult to smoke in a car where there is a person under the age of 18, and that the driver, regardless of age, bears the responsibility to ensure no person smokes in the vehicle, where a child is present.

The full response can be found on our website