Recent work of the Society's Law Reform Department, including crofting reform, tax agents, non-lawyer will writers, criminal justice, alcohol, public services, legal services

Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill

The Rural Affairs Subcommittee submitted a memorandum of comments on the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 9 December 2009. Among the provisions, the bill will create a new Crofting Register to replace the existing Register of Crofts; establish a new process for addressing absenteeism and neglect on croft land; and change the grounds under which the Commission may reject an application to decroft.

Although the Society expressed general support for the bill’s aims, it had some reservations about certain aspects of the proposed registration process, and the potential unintended consequences of the proposed new short-term lease.

Tax agents: the next stage

The Tax Law Subcommittee is currently drafting a response to the HMRC consultation “Working with tax agents: the next stage”, which considers proposals to give HMRC wider powers over tax agents. The Society has already expressed concerns to HMRC about the proposals contained in the initial consultation published in April 2009, and while some of these have been addressed in this follow-up document, there are others which still give cause for concern.

Given that the proposals would appear to affect all solicitors who give tax advice to clients as part of their work, including those advising on stamp duty land tax and inheritance tax, the Society would urge members either to respond to the consultation directly, or to feed their comments to the Tax Law Subcommittee by emailing katiehay@lawscot.org.uk by 21 April 2010. The deadline for responses to HMRC is now 28 April.

Non-lawyer will writers

The Society has responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the regulation of non-lawyer will writers, and is firmly of the view that non-lawyer will writers providing a service for a fee should be regulated. The Society agrees with the Government’s proposal to introduce a regulatory framework similar to that which is proposed for confirmation agents in Part 3 of the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill, and that the framework should include, amongst other things, provision for an entrance qualification, a system of continuing professional development and a public register.

Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill

Stage 2 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill began on 2 March and the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament will consider proposed amendments. The Society has submitted a number of amendments on behalf of both the Criminal Law Committee and the Licensing Law Subcommittee which consider all aspects of the bill.

In particular, the Society has suggested a number of changes with regard to the Scottish Sentencing Council, and to criminal procedure, evidence and disclosure. The Society also proposes the deletion of s 38 of the bill and the raising of the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland from eight to 12. With particular reference to the licensing aspects of the bill, the Society proposes changes to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 given the implementation issues which this Act has presented, such as the lack of a “site only” application procedure.

Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Bill

The Society has been invited to give oral evidence with regard to the Alcohol Etc (Scotland) Bill which, among other measures, proposes the imposition of a minimum price of alcohol.

The oral evidence session will take place on 17 March 2010 before the Health and Sport Committee of the Scottish Parliament.

Public Services Reform

The Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill is making its way through the Scottish Parliament with the Finance Committee as the lead committee. The Scottish Government recently submitted proposals for stage 2 amendments to the bill. In response, the Society has written to the Finance Committee expressing concerns that the proposed amendments would restrict the functions of the Mental Welfare Commission and reduce its crucial independence from government.

Legal Services (Scotland) Bill

Work also continues on securing guarantees of professional independence following the reforms under this bill, on which the Society’s future policy will be set by this month’s SGM: see pp14-16 of this issue.

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