The Society’s committees have been working on a number of Scottish Parliament and UK Parliamentary Bills and consultations including driving offences and penalties relating to causing death or serious injury, pension scams and the Commission on Parliamentary Reform.
The Criminal Law Committee responded to the Ministry of Justice consultation on driving offences and penalties relating to causing death or serious injury. The committee did not respond to all questions included in the consultation, but made specific comments in relation to the creation of a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.
The decision to legislate to create a new offence is a matter for Parliament. However, we note that a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, proposes to criminalise in one offence, both the degree of carelessness and the consequences of carelessness.
Historically, the approach of the courts has been to impose a sentence based upon the level of carelessness, rather than the consequences of the carelessness. We believe that careful consideration is required, where criminal courts are considering incidents, where there may be a momentary lapse of judgement on the part of a driver, which results in life changing consequences for a person injured in an accident.
We also recognise the need for certainty in the law and it has long been a guiding principle of criminal law, that no one should be punished under a law, unless it is sufficiently clear and certain to enable him or her to know what conduct is forbidden, before he or she does it.
The Pensions Law Committee responded to the UK Government consultation on a package of measures, to tackle three different areas of pension scams, including a ban on cold calling in relation to pensions.
We identified the offer of a free service of “tracing lost pensions”, as a further indication of a scam. This takes advantage of an individual’s lack of knowledge that the Pension Tracing Service offers free online support. We support a ban on cold calling and believe that, while consumers can benefit from a ‘free initial review’ from a UK regulated adviser, it is unlikely that consumers will benefit from a cold call from an unregulated individual.
We agree with the government’s proposal to limit the right to transfer, in certain circumstances, and in order to protect individuals’ savings; and noted that it would help if guidance was available on the process that trustees should follow.
The committee also responded to the Department for Work and Pension’s call for evidence: Bulk transfers of defined contribution pensions without member consent.
The Constitutional Law Committee responded to the Commission on Parliamentary Reform consultation, on all three aspects of their remit, namely: how the Scottish Parliament engages with the people of Scotland; the identity of the Scottish Parliament, as distinct from the Scottish Government; and whether the right 'checks and balances' are in place to ensure effective parliamentary business.
We made specific comments in relation to the first aspect and noted that it is relatively easy for professional organisations, campaigning bodies, academics, experts and those accustomed to civil service and political structures, to respond to parliamentary inquiries and stage one evidence gathering. However, we feel that it is less easy for those whose interaction with government or legislative authorities is unusual or sporadic.
In relation to the second aspect, we noted that we regularly engage with the Scottish Parliament and commented on 44 consultations and 18 bills during 2015/16.
We suggested that technology could be used to support the development and engagement of individuals, inquiries and legislation, allowing for further and better consultation, for example by videoconferencing with community groups and individuals and through social media. Facilities could be made more easily available to witnesses, enabling them to provide evidence by video to the Parliament’s Committees.
The Consumer Law Committee responded to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) consultation on high-cost credit, including overdrafts, and on the high-cost short-term credit price gap.
We believe that all high cost credit products should be reviewed with a view to mitigating consumer prejudice in this sector. We noted that we would be interested to know, where individuals are excluded, because they are deemed to not be credit worthy, what other credit facilities they turn to and how that problem can be addressed.
We also believe that both arranged and unarranged overdrafts should be capped, with defined limit and that after a certain period of time, the bank should be obliged to contact the person in order to attempt to discuss and review their financial situation.