Remote civil and criminal court hearings are among the emergency coronavirus measures to be kept in force for a further period under a new bill introduced to the Scottish Parliament.
The Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill, containing a six-month extension of selected emergency measures passed under the Coronavirus (Scotland) Acts of 2020 will be scrutinised and debated by MSPs over three days from tomorrow, 22 June.
Other measures proposed for extension include a six month notice period to protect private and social sector tenants from eviction, instead of the pre-pandemic 28-days; and a minimum debt level of £10,000 that an individual must owe before a creditor can make them bankrupt, compared with £3,000 pre-pandemic.
Measures proposed for expiry include:
- emergency operational measures in respect of children's hearings and child protection;
- certain provisions for postponement or extension of punishments requiring unpaid work in the community;
- "stop the clock" measures on the duration of guardianship orders and certificates authorising medical treatment for adults with incapacity, as the normal systems for processing these resume;
- provisions affecting the operation of irritancy clauses for non-payment of rent in commercial leases;
- provisions requiring the Scottish ministers and the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages for Scotland, to take steps to ensure couples could still marry or enter a civil partnership, now that local registration offices are able to reopen.
The bill does not introduce any new measures, nor does it cover travel regulations, which are a devolved public health measure, or lockdown measures, which are implemented by Scottish ministers within the UK Coronavirus Act 2020. The latter powers remain available to the Scottish and UK Governments until their current expiry date of 25 March 2022.
Provisions continued by the bill can be further extended with approval of the Parliament until 30 September 2022.
Provisions that have already been expired or suspended under the Scottish Acts included the protection of advance notices in conveyancing while the Land Register of Scotland and the Register of Sasines were not fully open, and the extension of certain business improvement district partnerships to 31 March 2021.
Deputy First Minister and COVID Recovery Secretary John Swinney commented: "We have already suspended or expired many provisions that are now redundant as restrictions have eased. However, to ensure those still required to protect the public and maintain essential public services can continue beyond 30 September, we have brought legislation forward to enable parliamentary scrutiny before the summer recess.
"This timeframe is necessary to give public services like the courts certainty ahead of the Acts' original expiry date, taking into account the time needed for this legislation to come into effect.
"We will continue to report to Parliament every two months on the use of these emergency powers, and remain committed to expiring or suspending any provisions that are no longer necessary."