May 2016

The Society’s committees have been working on a number of Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament Bills and consultations including the Investigatory Powers Bill, Child Safety Online and the criminal offence of domestic abuse.

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

Investigatory Powers Bill

The Privacy Law Committee submitted written evidence and amendments to the Investigatory Powers Bill ahead of the Committee stage in the House of Commons on 12 April.

We’ve warned that despite moves to protect client communications with solicitors, the Bill could still fall short. Confidential information between a lawyer and a client contributes to the rule of law, the proper functioning of the courts and is in the interests of justice. This information requires protection as it’s essential to ensure a client can speak freely with his or her lawyer and that the advice they receive will not be disclosed to the police, the security service or the media.

We have also pointed out potential risks relating to the requirement for telecommunications operators to retain data.

Our written evidence and amendments are available to read on the website

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2016. The new Act includes, amongst other things, provisions setting out a new specific domestic abuse aggravator; a new offence for the non-consensual sharing of private and intimate images; a requirement for juries in sexual offence cases to be given specific directions by the trial judge where certain conditions apply; and reforms to the system of civil orders available to protect communities from those who may commit sexual offences.

More details on the Bill are available on our website

Criminal offence of domestic abuse

The Criminal Law Committee responded to a Scottish Government consultation on a draft provision to create a specific offence of ‘abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner’.

We believe that clarity is needed on the proposals if it is to help people affected by either physical or psychological abuse. It will also be essential that any offence extending beyond physical abuse or behaviour is clearly defined.

We have also called for support for those who have either emotionally or physically abused their partners, in addition to providing support for victims of abuse, so they can recognise the impact of their abusive behaviour, and learn how to change their behaviours to prevent reoccurrence.

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

Child Safety Online

The Criminal and Privacy Law Committees have responded to a consultation paper by the UK Government on age verification for pornographic websites.

The ‘Child Safety Online: Age Verification for Pornography’ consultation identifies the problem of a large number of young people across the UK being able to access adult websites on their computers – up to 20% of those under 18 and 13% of those aged six to 14 -  and the damaging effect this can have. The UK Government is consulting on proposals which would require age verification for accessing pornographic websites

We have warned that the proposals for age verification could be counterproductive and potentially drive those producing online pornographic content further afield to websites hosted in countries that would not cooperate and result in even less protection for children.

The Society’s full consultation response can also be found on our website

Clandestine Civil Penalty

The Immigration and Asylum Law Committee responded to a UK Government consultation on proposals to improve the UK’s clandestine civil penalty regime to encourage more hauliers to secure their vehicles more effectively.

We believe that strengthening the civil penalty regime on the transportation industry will protect the passage and entry of goods into Britain, but may further prevent genuine refugees entering the UK. We have highlighted the need for the UK to make efforts to ensure that there are safe and accessible ways for individuals to make a claim for asylum with the UK.

We also expressed concerns about the effect that higher penalties could have on smaller transportation businesses and suggested that a system of grants or economic assistance may be necessary to allow small business to invest in new technology to secure their vehicles.

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

Adults with Incapacity

We’ve proposed major changes to the law for adults with dementia, learning disabilities and other causes of incapacity following a comprehensive review of the legislation and human rights standards intended to protect vulnerable people.

The Society’s Mental Health and Disability Committee responded to a Scottish Government consultation on a report by the Scottish Law Commission with the view that the current system frequently and seriously lets down vulnerable adults.

In particular, we believe that the current position under the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000 is inefficient and ineffective and the fragmented operation across the UK jurisdictions wastes public resources and drains legal aid funds.

The Society’s full consultation response can also be found on our website

We have urged political parties to commit to updating or reviewing specific areas of legislation in our priorities for the next Scottish Parliament. The full document can be found on our website.