Our policy committees have had a busy month analysing and responding to proposed changes in the law. We do this to positively influence the creation of a fairer and more just society through our active engagement with the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments, Parliaments, wider stakeholders and our membership.

You can read more about some of the month's highlights below:

In July this year, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma published a white paper on plans to legislate for a UK internal market to ensure that cross-border business can continue unimpeded within the UK once the many powers previously exercised at EU level are returned to the UK Government and devolved administrations. According to the white paper, these proposals will give devolved administrations “unprecedented regulatory freedom within new UK frameworks, allowing them to benefit from opportunities to innovate”.

However, the devolved administrations have expressed some concerns about the proposals. The Welsh government said that it supported common rules to regulate the internal market, but that these must be agreed by all four governments, and any new system must have independent oversight and dispute resolution. The Scottish government is not in favour of the proposals and argues that common frameworks would be sufficient to manage divergence within the UK.

The constitutional law sub-committee submitted comments on the white paper proposals on 13 August, having first consulted other relevant other sub-committees, including the following recommendations:

  • Government should engage in pre-legislative consultation on the clauses concerning the market access commitment
  • Government should engage in pre-legislative consultation on the clauses containing the exclusions from the scope of the Internal Market
  • Government should engage at an early stage with professional bodies affected by the proposed review of the objectives for regulating professions and recognising international qualifications
  • In order to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny, Internal Market issues of significant impact should be legislated by primary legislation
  • Government should ensure it complies with the Memorandum of Understanding and Concordat on International Relations

You can access the full response here.

Further to the written evidence submitted for Stage 1 by the environmental law and constitutional law sub-committees in July, both committees were invited to give oral evidence on the bill. Alison McNab, secretary of the environmental law sub-committee appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform Committee on 18 August. The points Alison raised with the committee included:

  • Provisions of Part 2 of the Bill are welcome in order to fill the environmental ‘governance gap’ which arises following UK’s withdrawal from the EU – but there are improvements which could be made to strengthen the provisions, particularly in relation to Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS)
  • Strong collaboration between the UK Government and devolved administrations is of considerable importance given the transboundary effects of environmental impacts
  • It is important that there is clarity and certainty as to the role, effect and interpretation of the environmental principles and we expect that guidance will help to achieve this.

Michael Clancy, secretary of the constitutional law sub-committee, appeared before the Parliament’s Finance and Constitution committee on 26 August.

This bill was introduced into the Scottish Parliament in September 2019. The policy aims of the bill include ensuring the views of the child are heard in contact and residence cases; affording further protection to victims of domestic abuse and their children; and further compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in family court cases.

 

The Child and Family law sub-committee provided written evidence to the Justice Committee call for views in November 2019 and had previously provided a response to the Scottish Government consultation on the review of Part 1 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and creation of a family justice modernisation strategy in September 2018.

 

However, several significant amendments were proposed to the bill at stage 3 which we did not support, including proposed changes in relation to child welfare reporters, professional misconduct for referrals to child contact services or ADR, and the expression of views by the child, and effective participation. We provided a further briefing on the detail of these areas in advance of the Stage 3 debate on 25 August and we were pleased that an amendment to preclude solicitors from being appointed as child welfare reporters was not included in the bill as passed.

The Criminal Law committee has responded to the Scottish Sentencing Council Consultation on Sentencing Young People. The introduction of sentencing guidelines for young people is part of the ongoing programme of work being undertaken by the Scottish Sentencing Council to form the framework of sentencing decisions being taken in Scotland. The committee is of the view that subject to certain comments and observations it makes in the response, the introduction of these guidelines is to be welcomed to provide clarity on what is a complex subject matter. They will be important to inform the public about how sentencing decisions have been reached; and, within the judiciary, to promote transparency and consistency

of sentencing.

 

In particular, the response gives detailed consideration to the various issues raised by the proposal that the guidelines should apply to all those under the age of 25 at the time of sentencing.

 

You can read the committee’s full response here.

Influencing the law and policy

One of the main functions of our policy team, along with our network of volunteers, is to analyse and respond to proposed changes in the law.