The Society’s committees have been working on a number of Scottish Parliament and UK Parliamentary Bills and consultations including the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, the SLAB consultation on changes to the Code of Practice and the future of the Scottish Planning System.
The Family Law Committee responded to the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee’s call for written evidence on the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill.
Overall, we believe that the Scottish Government’s ambition to eradicate child poverty in Scotland by 2030 is to be commended. The expression of this ambition through the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill will increase the profile of child poverty in Scotland and encourage debate as to how child poverty may be effectively addressed.
The definition of “child” in the Bill is drafted to include “those deemed to be qualifying young persons for the purposes of Part 9 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992”. However, we have suggested for the definition of “child” to be drafted to clearly include all persons aged up to 18. This would be consistent with the definition contained in Section 97(1) of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.
We would also welcome the establishment of a National Poverty and Inequality Commission in Scotland. We believe that it is a good idea to have an independent body providing oversight and scrutiny of the progress being made in relation to the aims contained within the Bill.
The Criminal Legal Aid Committee responded to the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) consultation on changes to the Code of Practice in relation Criminal Legal Assistance.
We have called for SLAB to postpone the introduction of a proposed new code of practice until new legal aid fee levels for providing police station advice are agreed. We have also expressed significant concern about the overlap between SLAB’s draft code and the existing regulatory framework for solicitors, which creates a risk of misinterpretation and potential conflict between the two, and have set out a number of other key issues with the draft code which include: lack of a clear process to be adopted in incidents of non-compliance with the code and action which might be taken by SLAB; increased administrative burden; and inconsistency and lack of clarity in obligations placed on solicitors, solicitor advocates and advocates.
We would welcome the opportunity for a full debate and to explore the creation of a new code of practice with SLAB once the fee structure for police station advice has been determined. At the moment however, we have significant concerns about the proposals and cannot recommend that members accept the code as currently drafted.
The Obligations Committee responded to the Scottish Law Commission’s call for evidence on the draft Prescription (Scotland) Bill.
We are fully supportive of the Commission’s review of this area of law. In our previous response to the Commission’s discussion paper on prescription in May 2016 we considered that there is much wasted time and expense in raising protective proceedings against parties. These costs could be mitigated if the starting date for the prescriptive period was clearer and if there was the ability to postpone the period through the use of standstill agreements.
This, and other issues, has been aggravated by the UK Supreme Court decision in David T Morrison & Co Ltd v ICL Plastics Ltd, which has led to considerable uncertainty surrounding the commencement date for prescriptive periods. It seems to us that many actions are currently being raised to avoid a time-bar argument that could otherwise be dealt out with court.
The Equalities Committee responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the practical application of the draft Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill.
We highlighted that many high quality responses were submitted when the Scottish Government previously consulted on this subject in 2014 and we suggested that those responses should be revisited as part of the current consultation process. There are also models in other jurisdictions, notably, Northern Ireland and Norway which the Scottish Government may find of interest.
We noted that the concept of gender used in the draft Bill is a binary approach to the concept. This does not account for people who consider themselves to be genderqueer or of a third gender. We also noted that it is not immediately clear what sanction, if any, is proposed to be used against an organisation that does not comply with the requirements as set out in the draft Bill.
The Planning Law Committee responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the future of the Scottish planning system.
In 2015 Ministers commissioned an independent panel to undertake a review of the planning system. We welcome the fact that the Scottish Government agrees with the findings of the panel and supports the continuation of a plan-led system. We believe that many of the reforms, if implemented correctly, do have the potential to improve development planning in Scotland.
The consultation covered four main topics: making plans for the future; people make the system work; building more homes and delivering infrastructure; and stronger leadership and smarter resourcing. In our response we highlighted key factors and risks to be taken into account in ensuring that changes were practically workable and did not result in unintended negative consequences for stakeholders. In some areas the committee identified concerns with the proposals put forward. One of the most important considerations is ensuring that the detail of the proposed changes, for example the suggested shift towards regional partnership working, succeeds in delivering the stated objectives.