Recent work of the Law Reform Department, including bills on British Sign Language, mental health, voting age, and air weapons and licensing

British Sign Language (Scotland) Bill

The Equalities Committee submitted a stage 1 brief to all MSPs. The committee supports the policy intention of the bill, to promote the use and understanding of BSL. Under the bill, a minister will be responsible for publishing a national plan for Scotland and local authorities will be required to publish their own “authority plans”, which must be consistent with the national plan.

The committee has some concern that both the national and authority plans may be interpreted as equalities issues, which is not the intent of the bill, and to that end suggest greater clarity on what is expected that would be distinct from existing obligations under the general equality duty.

Mental Health (Scotland) Bill

The Mental Health Committee prepared amendments to submit to the Scottish Parliament’s Health & Sport Committee. It seeks to delete s 1 of the bill, which proposes to extend the short term detention period from five to 10 working days, on the view that this would afford less protection to a patient under articles 5 and 6 ECHR. The committee is also looking to delete part of s 9. This gives mental health tribunals the authority to extend the period for which measures authorising detention under a compulsory treatment order can be suspended, by a further 100 days in any 12-month period. This was not consulted on and the committee does not believe there is any need to change the current law: the bill would, it says, result in further tribunals for the patient and a greater volume of hearings for the tribunal.

Scottish Elections (Reduction in Voting Age) Bill

The Constitutional Law Committee submitted comments to the Scottish Parliament, highlighting that there could potentially be human rights implications, in particular with regard to prisoners who are 16 or 17 years old. Currently, the UK blanket ban on prisoner voting is deemed in contravention of ECHR; however, the Scottish Parliament cannot pass any laws that are incompatible with ECHR. This means that adherence to the disenfranchisement for offenders aged 16 or 17 may result in challenges on the basis that the bill applies an incapacity which is incompatible with Convention rights.

Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill

The Licensing Law Committee submitted a stage 1 brief to MSPs in April. On alcohol licensing, it reiterated its concerns as to the lack of clarity around who can apply for a transfer of a premises licence and when that transfer can take effect, particularly in the common situation where a tenant disappears and leaves the premises closed for some time. The committee also raised serious concerns around a licence ceasing to have effect once surrendered by a tenant, with the consequence of landlords insisting that they now hold the premises licence in their name, without being able to exercise appropriate day-to-day supervision. This situation could be easily remedied to allow reinstatement of a licence following a surrender. The committee is also concerned that nothing has been done to reinstate the old site-only provisional grant: applicants at present can incur significant cost in submitting detailed plans to licensing boards, with no guarantee of a licence being granted. In relation to air weapons, the committee re-raised the issue that the bill licenses the applicant but makes no correlation to the air weapons, and there is no requirement to present the certificate when buying ammunition.

Full details of the above, and further information on the current work of the Law Reform department, can be found at www.lawscot.org.uk/forthepublic/law-reform-consultations-and-bills
The team can be contacted on any of the matters above through louisedocherty@lawscot.org.uk, or follow us on Twitter: @lawscot

SLC hosts CALRAS

On 11 and 12 April, the Scottish Law Commission hosted the Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies Conference, bringing together law commissioners and associated organisations from across the Commonwealth. The conference papers can be accessed at www.scotlawcom.gov.uk/calras-conference-on-law-reform

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