A bill to make permanent some of the measures introduced as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

Following last year's consultation, which attracted almost 3,000 responses, the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill proposes changes in 30 areas which were modified by temporary provisions made under Scottish and UK coronavirus legislation.

In addition, there is a further temporary extension of some justice measures to assist the courts with clearing the backlog of cases arising from the pandemic.

The five substantive parts of the bill provide for:

  1. New powers to respond where there is a "serious and imminent threat" to public health, similar to temporary powers in the Scottish ministers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, for example to impose “lockdown” restrictions. 
  2. Powers relating specifically to educational establishments such as schools, colleges and universities, school boarding and student accommodation, which could be used for example to restrict access to schools due to a public health emergency.
  3. Changes to a number of services, mainly relating to communicating electronically, including bankruptcy procedures, registration of births and deaths, alcohol and civic government licensing, submission of deeds to Registers of Scotland, requirements of writing, and interim payments of legal aid, as well as provisions affecting persons in police custody.
  4. Mandatory eviction grounds for private rented sector tenancies changing to discretionary, with eviction able to be granted where a tribunal considers it reasonable. The bill also sets up a pre-action protocol which landlords can follow before starting eviction proceedings; whether landlords have followed this protocol will be considered by a court in deciding whether to order an eviction in cases of late or non-payment of rent.
  5. Some of the changes to the justice system, currently set to expire in September 2022, to be continued until November 2023, with power to ministers to extend this by regulations to November 2024 and beyond to November 2025. These include provisions covering time limits and prevention of delay in trials, fiscal fines, and national jurisdiction of sheriff courts form callings from custody.

Deputy First Minister and COVID Recovery Secretary John Swinney commented:

"Scottish ministers have already removed many of the temporary measures that supported our response to the pandemic, which are no longer needed.

"However, we believe those pragmatic reforms that have delivered demonstrable benefit to the people of Scotland should continue. Whilst it has been incredibly disruptive, the urgency of the pandemic has driven the pace of digital adoption, and in some cases more efficient ways of working, and better service to the public."

Click here to access the bill and related papers.