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:
The Trade Policy Working Group responded to the Scottish Affairs Committee’s inquiry into Scotland’s priorities for future trade relations with the EU.
Trade agreements can be used to bring about a wide range of changes in the relationship between states and regions. In many such agreements provisions are a means to promote or reinforce the application of the rule of law. Trade negotiations should take into consideration the need to ensure minimum standards or norms and respect for the rule of law and the interests of justice and access to justice. Other aspects of the legal framework play a similarly important role in facilitating trade. This extends, for example, to continuing protection of intellectual property rights, promotion of competition and facilitating flows of data.
In the context of negotiations for a new relationship with the EU, it is important that every effort is made to continue cooperation in terms of mutual recognition and enforcement of judgments which are so important in allowing citizens and businesses to resolve disputes. Enabling access to justice gives businesses greater confidence in their commercial relationships and is important to underpin continued trade between the UK and remaining EU countries post withdrawal.
Furthermore, we emphasised the importance of ensuring that the devolved legislatures are involved in setting the UK’s trade policy and that engagement continues throughout the negotiation process. In the context of devolved competences this is particularly relevant where international agreements would bind domestic legislatures to effect changes to domestic law. We also noted that there was a distinct lack of clarity in the Trade Bill as to how the devolved administrations might be involved in trade negotiations.
We also emphasised the importance of recognising Scotland as a distinct jurisdiction with its own law, court system and separately regulated legal profession. This should be considered in pursuing trade agreements including negotiations with the EU and other countries.
The Banking, Company and Insolvency Law Committee responded to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s consultation on the reform of limited partnership law.
We are keen to support the government in ensuring that Scottish Limited Partnerships (SLPs) are not open to abuse by those engaged in criminal activity. At the same time any changes must avoid imposing disproportionate duties on legitimate businesses or creating administrative burdens, which will serve no useful purpose. The flexibility currently offered by the SLP, combining tax transparency with separate legal personality, makes it an attractive vehicle in the global marketplace.
We noted that the introduction of the PSC rules has already improved transparency in relation to Scottish Limited Partnerships and the number of SLP registrations has decreased dramatically since they came into force. As a general rule, we advocate the importance of ensuring that time is allowed for legal measures to take effect before making further changes and it may be that in terms of the Scottish form, significant progress towards transparency has therefore already been achieved.
The Immigration and Asylum Law Committee responded to the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry on a post-Brexit migration policy.
We suggested that one of the main objectives should be to provide a clear set of rules that provides certainty to both individuals and businesses. The current rules for non-EU nationals are complex, and this has been reflected by high refusal rates in a number of visa categories. In Scotland legal aid is available for immigration cases, but the complexity of the rules is a concern for those with lower incomes and unable to access specialist legal advice. We believe that the current rules have reached a level of complexity which makes legal representation essential.
We believe the Home Office should make post-Brexit migration a priority to provide reassurances for individuals and businesses concerned about the future. We note that further information has been provided for EU nationals currently living in the UK, but this comes two years after the vote to leave the EU, and we have concerns that uncertainty in relation to post-Brexit arrangements are resulting in delays in individuals and businesses relocating to the UK.
The Rural Affairs Committee responded to the National Council of Rural Affairs’ consultation: ‘A Rural Conversation: together we can, together we will’.
We welcome the consultation which recognises the importance of Scotland’s vibrant, sustainable and inclusive rural economy. It is important that the needs of rural Scotland are considered by policy makers, and that these needs are balanced with other interests as policy is developed.
We recognise that there are often differences in availability between urban and rural areas. We must continue to ensure that relevant opportunities and services are available to all and take steps to improve connectivity to support that outcome. We believe that there is particular importance in ensuring access to justice for those in rural areas and highlighted the ongoing development of new technologies as a potential solution to ensure that good quality services are available to all.