The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is "complex, difficult to interpret and lacking in clarity", the Law Society of Scotland claims.
Ahead of the bill's second reading in the House of Commons today, the Society also highlighted concerns about the potential for the erosion of human rights in the UK, and the impact of withdrawal on the devolved administrations.
Describing the bill as "the most significant to come before the UK Parliament for many decades", the President, Graham Matthews, commented: “Given the tight timescales involved, we think that MPs will have a difficult task in examining the bill and therefore the UK Government should be generous and permissive with suggestions to clarify or make improvements as the bill progresses. We have also called for early consultation on the draft secondary legislation that will be required as the bill goes through Parliament, to ensure there is sufficient time for scrutiny.”
The Society's concerns about the potential erosion of rights stem from the provision that the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will not be part of UK domestic law after withdrawal.
Mr Matthews said: “We believe the UK Government should reconsider this because of the possible erosion of human rights if it is removed. The Charter will only apply to EU law retained following the UK’s exit from the EU and it makes sense for it to remain so UK courts can interpret the retained EU law more easily.”
Regarding the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament in relation to retained EU law, he added: “We believe there needs to be a whole of governance approach to the UK withdrawal from the EU, which takes into account the devolved administrations and other key organisations and representative groups to ensure this complex bill works properly. The effect of the bill would be to remove the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament in relation to any matter in retained EU law. This would be the case even if it related to areas of law not reserved to the UK under the Scotland Act, such as agriculture or fisheries.
“We have suggested a number of alternatives to the provisions in the bill for dealing with the complexities of retained EU law and the competence of the devolved jurisdictions, which we encourage MPs to consider.”