October 2015

Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Etc. (Scotland) Bill

We provided a stage 1 briefing to MSPs on the Bill.  In the brief we stated our concerns that the Bill does not reflect Lord Cullen’s recommendation that relatives being represented  at a fatal accident inquiry should receive legal aid without showing the need for it to be reasonable.  Relatives appearing at a FAI are likely to find the experience of appearing at a FAI Daunting and traumatic, and we consider legal representation to be necessary.    expense of increasing availability of legal representation would be minimal in terms of the entire legal aid budget.  We also propose that some consideration be given to the creation of a statutory right to a FAI, and highlight our belief that this would only give rise to a small increase in the numbers of FAIs held throughout Scotland each year.  Such a hearing would provide closure to those dissatisfied families, should have a minimal economic impact, but would reinforce public confidence in Scotland’s system for investigation of apparently self-inflicted deaths.

The full brief is available on our website

UK Parliament’s Justice Committee’s Inquiry into Courts and Tribunals fees and charges

Our Administrative Justice committee submitted evidence to the Inquiry.  The committee restricted its response as to the effect of the introduction of employment tribunal fees in the Scottish court system.  We highlighted the reduction of 80% in employment tribunal claims since the introduction of the fees, and set out our views on the reasons for the drop, including but not limited to the high levels at which the fees have been set, placing the onus on the employee to pay the fees upfront and a complex, inflexible and inefficient system of fee remission. 

The introduction of these fees now means that employment tribunals are one of the most expensive routes to resolving disputes, and this can be seen by comparing sheriff court fees to employment tribunal fees in Scotland.

Our full briefing is available on our website

British Sign Language (S) Bill

Our equalities law committee submitted a briefing to all MSPs ahead of the stage 3 debate in the Scottish Parliament.  We are supportive of the policy intent of the Bill and noted that we were pleased to see that the Bill was amended at stage 2 to reflect that any engagement for consultation must include persons who use BSL and who are deaf or deafblind. We agree that it will only be through engagement with the BSL community that meaningful and effective plans can be developed and carried forward. We also welcome the requirement that all relevant documents are to be published in BSL.  We highlighted our support for Ministers to lay progress reports before the Scottish Parliament, which we would hope would ensure that the policy objectives of the Bill are met through close scrutiny and monitoring.  The Bill passed stage 3 on 17 September. 

The full briefing and a BSL Full details and videos are available on our website

Immigration and Asylum Committee

It has been a busy month for the Immigration and Asylum committee, who have responded to three consultations. 

Home Affairs Committee inquiry into skills shortages: the committee highlighted its thoughts on the annual cap on restricted certificates, and noted Scotland's economic needs differ from the rest of the UK and the need to increase the size of the working population. The annual cap does not recognise this and does not distinguish between Scotland and the rest of the UK.  It is the committee’s view that smaller businesses are likely to be disadvantaged by the annual cap as it requires them to pay higher salaries in order to secure skilled candidates.

Migration Advisory Committee call for evidence:  review of the Tier 2 route:the committee highlighted that the Tier 2 route is an important route for Scotland and the rest of the UK as it allows businesses to fill shortages with skilled candidates who can contribute to the growth of the business. In Scotland, reducing tier 2 migration will have a negative effect, by reducing the number of skilled workers available, in turn creating a particular impact on small businesses who may not be able to expand as a result of skill shortages.

Reforming support for failed asylum seekers and other illegal migrants: the committee were unclear as to how the proposals for limiting support  for failed asylum seekers would change the current arrangements in any meaningful way, and suggest that clarification be given to what is meant by “a genuine obstacle to departure”.  The committee also highlighted the UN Convention on the rights of the Child and that the proposals fail to take account of the UK’s obligations in this respect.  There is no indication of how the Secretary of State will have regard to the best interests of children affected by support decisions, despite potentially negative consequences for their wellbeing.   

The full responses to all three consultations are available on our website