The Faculty of Advocates has come out against the proposed amalgamation of the Scottish Land Court and the Lands Tribunal for Scotland.
In its response to the Scottish Government consultation on the proposal, Faculty says it is concerned that a merger could worsen delays already experienced because of the workload of the two bodies.
"Any additional available resources would be better directed to alleviating such pressures and to improving access to the SLC and LTS by means of greater use of technology", it comments.
"We consider that many of the proposed advantages (of amalgamation) could be achieved by the sharing of administrative resources between the Land Court and the Lands Tribunal, which share premises, without any reform of the existing structures."
Faculty believes that both bodies operate well at present, subject to resource limitations, and in the clear majority of cases deal with matters "clearly within their own function".
It observes: "The resolution of the disputes that come before them requires a different approach… The bodies of expertise which reside within the two bodies are distinct from each other." That is because the Lands Tribunal is likely to be concerned with planning, transportation and valuation matters and will primarily if not wholly concern expert evidence, whereas the Land Court concerns all aspects of crofting, legal and practical, "and whilst it may involve some valuation evidence it is likely to involve significant evidence from individual crofters" – often travelling to sit in the locality of the case it is hearing.
The response continues: "If the two were joined, we do not believe that a unitary set of court rules would be appropriate for the quite different types of cases involved. In our view it is almost inevitable that different rules/practices would have to be adopted for different subject matter and that would broadly break down to the current split between the court and the tribunal, so that the change would be purely formal with little other real advantage."
On a question of any extra functions which a merged body should have, Faculty agrees that some matters including right-to-buy cases could be transferred to an expanded Land Court, but says it would "in particular resist" the transfer of applications for wind farms or green belt development.
"They are more appropriately dealt with by local planning authorities with a right of appeal to the Scottish ministers to consider through the DPEA (Planning & Environmental Appeals Division) and its reporters, who have expertise and considerable experience in assessing and balancing the impact on the environment and making judgments on the competing issues."