Our policy committees have had a busy month analysing and responding to proposed changes in the law. We do this in order 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:
The Constitutional Law Committee responded to the inquiry into the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by the UK Parliament Joint Select Committee on Human Rights.
We have suggested that the UK Government should reconsider the decision not to include the Charter of Fundamental Rights as part of retained EU law which would then form part of domestic law on and after exit day. Our domestic courts would find its terms helpful when determining the validity, meaning and effect of retained EU law.
We also believe it would be helpful to the government when identifying what fundamental rights or principles it considers are retained in domestic law and whether, or to what extent, they are included in the definition of “retained general principles of EU law” in clause 6 (7) of the Bill.
We have called on the government to reconsider these matters and take stock of our deep concerns about the potential for erosion of human rights and the creation of difficulties for the UK Courts in interpreting the EU derived UK law which may occur as a result of the Charter’s removal.
See our full response to the inquiry
The Health and Medical Law Committee responded to the House of Lords EU Home Affairs Sub-Committee inquiry on the reciprocal healthcare implications of Brexit for UK citizens travelling, living and/or working in the rest of the EU, and for EU citizens travelling, living and/or working in the UK, in both the short and medium term.
We have said that reciprocal and mutually beneficial arrangements for health care coverage and maintaining cross-border healthcare after Brexit should be a priority for negotiators. The existing reciprocal arrangements will continue in relation to the European Health Insurance Card for UK citizens living in EU states prior to the Brexit date. However it remains unclear as to what will happen after we leave. We believe that negotiations on this should be given priority to provide reassurance for UK citizens currently living in Europe and EU citizens resident in the UK.
The Environmental Law Committee responded to the Scottish Government and Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) consultation on the draft Environmental Authorisations (Scotland) Regulations 2018.
We welcome SEPA’s objectives of simplifying the existing authorisation framework and ensuring consistency across regulation in different areas. However, generally speaking, we are concerned that the Regulations and the guidance accompanying them go too far in simplifying the Regulations at the expense of legal certainty. The proposals would grant SEPA extremely wide discretion throughout the regime, for instance, allowing them to serve an enforcement notice even where a permit holder is wholly compliant with the terms of the permit granted to it by SEPA.
It is also important that uniformity does not stifle creativity and that the authorisation regime continues to drive innovation, allowing Scottish businesses to lead, or at least keep pace with, the rest of the UK, Europe and the wider international community while also ensuring robust environmental protection.
As noted in our previous consultation response, the outcome of negotiations regarding the UK’s withdrawal from the EU may have an impact on environmental law and in turn on the proposals here. We feel it would be helpful to have some information as to how SEPA and the Scottish Government intend to “future-proof” the proposals against this.
The Mental Health and Disability Committee responded to the Cabinet Office consultation asking for views on how people with disabilities experience registering to vote and voting itself.
Our response focusses on known problems relating to the ability of people with perceived or actual mental capacity issues to be added to the electoral register and to exercise voting rights.
Section 73 of the Electoral Administration Act 2006 changed the law to make it clear that mental capacity is not a requirement for exercising the right to vote. This was seen as a progressive reform, ensuring that those with mental disabilities were entitled to exercise the right to vote on the same conditions as the rest of society. Unfortunately, changes to the law around voter registration, continuing misconceptions about the law around mental capacity and voting, and discriminatory attitudes towards people with cognitive impairments, mean that the practical reality does not reflect the intention of the law. Significant barriers still exist for many people who should be entitled to be included on the electoral roll, and to exercise their right to vote.