April 2016

The Society’s committees have been working on a number of Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament Bills and consultations including the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill, Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill and Mandatory Pay Gap Reporting.

Key areas are highlighted below. For more information see the law reform section of the website.

Lobbying (Scotland) Bill

In our briefing paper ahead of the stage 3 debate on the Lobbying (Scotland) Bill we’ve recommended that the Bill be further extended to include emails and provide clarity for people who communicate using British Sign Language (BSL)

The proposals in the Bill, which will see the creation of a new lobbying register, already require MSPs to report face to face meetings – whether in person or using audio visual technology.

Our stage 3 briefing paper and amendment to section 1 of the Bill are available to read on the website.

Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

Our property and tax law committees have updated members on the important changes brought about by the LBTT (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.

The legislation will introduce a new additional dwelling supplement on purchases of additional residential properties in Scotland (such as buy-to-let properties and second homes) of £40,000 or more. The additional dwelling supplement is 3% of the total purchase price and will be payable from 1 April 2016.

We strongly encourage all members to read the Revenue Scotland Guidance and also the FAQ materials on the Revenue Scotland website.

More information about the bill, including our stage 3 briefing, can be found on our website.

Mandatory Gender Pay Gap Reporting

The Equalities Law Committee responded to a UK Government consultation on draft regulations intended to increase transparency around the differences in pay between men and women.

The Society believes that the regulations should include provisions requiring those organisations which identify a gender pay gap to set out a plan of action to remedy the gap and also recommended that that the definition of a ‘relevant employer’ should be widened to include more businesses and the definition of ‘pay’ should include deferred remuneration and overtime.

The Law Society’s full consultation response can be found on the website.

Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill

In our briefing paper ahead of the stage 3 debate on the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill, our Criminal Law committee welcomed measures which help to improve how the justice system responds to abusive behaviour, including domestic abuse, but expressed concerns about the fragmented approach and lack of clarity surrounding the law in this area.

There have been a number of recent changes to criminal law, including the offence of threatening or abusive behaviour in terms of s38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 and the offence of stalking in s39 of the same Act, and while the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill contains a “Domestic abuse aggravator”, the Scottish Government is currently consulting on a distinct offence of domestic abuse.

The committee also highlighted that the proposals for mandatory jury directions relating to sexual offences represent a major departure from existing practice, where the distinct roles of a judge and a jury are clear.

Our stage 3 briefing paper is available to read in full on the website.

Transfer of functions of the Employment Tribunal to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland

The Employment Law Committee have raised a number of concerns in their response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the draft Order in Council that makes provision to transfer specified functions of the Employment Tribunal to the First-tier tribunal for Scotland.

Issues highlighted include the more restrictive definition of a ‘Scottish case’, the need to develop the Scottish system consistently with England and Wales and the potential impact on expertise and diversity.

Our full response can be found on the website.

Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service Review

We’re looking forward to working our partners in the justice sector following the publication of the SCTS Evidence and Procedure Review which sets out its next steps for improving the court system.

Our Criminal Law Committee welcomed the review and fully support increased use of new technologies in our courts and wider justice system to make them more streamlined and effective for everyone involved.

Scotland Act 2016

The Scotland Act 2016 became law on 23 March 2016. This important piece of constitutional law seeks to implement the report of the Smith Commission which was set up in the wake of the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014.

The Act provides for the permanence of the Scottish Parliament and sets part of the Sewel Convention on a statutory footing (an issue which provoked a Parliamentary controversy between the Advocate General and a number of Crossbench and Opposition Peers).

The Act also provides the Scottish Parliament with increased powers covering income tax, air passenger duty, aggregate tax, welfare benefits and employment Support. The Parliament will also have power over the Crown Estate, Equal Opportunities, Tribunals – including Employment Tribunals, some aspects of road traffic law, the British Transport Police, consumer advocacy and advice, certain gaming machines and abortion.

The Society was closely involved in briefing MPs, and Peers of all parties during the passage of the Act and prepared many amendments to clarify aspects of the legislation. We also briefed and gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee to assist it in considering the bill. The Committee’s final Report cites the Society’s views on a number of aspects of the legislation.

The final report, and our other briefings, can be found on our website.