Committee Updates July 2015

Scotland Bill

Our constitutional law committee promoted 14 amendments to the Scotland Bill ahead of committee stage at Westminster, all of which were tabled for debate by opposition members. 

The amendments focussed on the issues surrounding the permanency of the Scottish Parliament, and our proposed new wording would remove any doubt concerning as to permanency.  We also promoted amendments concerning the Sewel Convention, suggesting wording which, in our view, would make the provision more robust in ensuring the Westminster parliament would not legislate on devolved matters with the consent of the Scottish Parliament. 

We have also called for the regulation of estate agents to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, which would allow the Scottish Parliament to make law relating to estate agents which would be more closely aligned to the Scottish legal system and the needs of consumers in Scotland. 

All our briefings and amendments can be found on our website 

Prisoners (Control of Early Release) Bill

This Bill was passed by MSPs on 23 June.  This legislation will end automatic early release on licence after two thirds of a sentence has been served for all categories of long term prisoners, who will now be released on licence six months before the end of their sentence.  

During the passage of the Bill, we raised our concerns that the biggest change in custodial sentencing in 22 years was being introduced without a full period of consultation, such as the 14 month review undertaken by Lord Kincraig ahead of the introduction of the parole system, and that the Scottish Government substantially changed the terms of the Bill at stage 2, extending the provisions of the Bill to cover all long terms prisoners. 

As introduced the Bill’s provisions extended to certain categories of prisoners only.  It is our view that six months is an inadequate amount of time to successfully reintegrate an offender back into the community, and now the focus should be on ensuring sufficient resources are put in place to ensure that the risk of reoffending can be reduced, through both the increased provision of relevant offence-focused work in custody and a properly funded rehabilitation programme. This will also need to be followed by proper support for released prisoners during their reintegration into the community. 

All the Society’s briefings on the Bill can be found on our website

Mental Health (Scotland) Bill

The Mental Health (Scotland) Bill was unanimously passed by MSPs at Stage 3 on Wednesday 24 June. 

The Mental Health and Disability committee is of the view that the bill will bring some additional clarity to the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 (the “2003 Act”).  The committee was particularly pleased that the bill was amended after Stage 2 to remove the proposed extension of the period of short-term detention from five days to ten days; and that an amendment was accepted at Stage 3 extending the right of appeal against cross-border transfers to named persons and other relevant parties. 

However, a number of concerns were not addressed.  In particular the committee sought to give a right of appeal to curators ad litem and to introduce the use of recorded matters in compulsion orders and compulsion and restriction orders but these proposals were not accepted by the government.

Our briefings on the Bill are on our website

Compulsory Purchase Orders - SLC Discussion Paper

The Scottish Law Commission’s paper sets out the current law on compulsory purchase and its proposals as to how the law could be improved and reformed. 

In our response we stated that we would be supportive of a new statute, and that a properly drafted new Act could result in a more efficient and fairer system of compulsory purchase and compensation which benefits the economy and social justice.   

In our response we refer to the current definition of ‘land’ and that it is too restrictive and that it should include airspace rights.  We also agree powers for temporary possession would be useful, particularly where access is required during construction, and that the right to compensation as the result of a compulsory purchase order should be put on the face of the new statute. 

Our full response can be found on our website

Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill

Our licensing committee submitted written evidence on the Bill.  We support the policy intent of the Bill to promote public health and reduce alcohol related offending, but question whether the provisions contained in the Bill will achieve this policy intent. 

The committee makes reference to the terms under section 6, which makes it an offence to advertise alcohol in a prohibited place, such as a school.  We question how this could be enforced in practice, as an example a member of the public could display a poster for an event with an alcohol sponsor in the window of their home, and unknowingly be committing an offence.  The committee also question proposed ‘drinking banning orders’, how they would be enforced and how premises licence holders will know who has had a drinking banning order imposed. 

Our full response can be found on our website