Social care, bail, gender recognition, transactions in moveable property and a pardon for convictions relating to the 1980s miners' strike are among the bills to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in the coming months, the Scottish Government announced yesterday.

The bills are previewed in the Programme for Government presented to the Parliament by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Further aims set out in the document, so far as relating to the justice system, include an expansion of community justice services to support diversion from prosecution, alternatives to remand and community sentencing; continuing modernisation of the prison estate; new funding to support victims, survivors and witnesses of crime; and statutory anonymity for complainers of sexual crimes.

There will be public consultations on abolishing the not proven verdict, on whether the prosecution and government functions of the law officers should be separated, and on reform of the regulation of legal services. Work will begin on establishing a register of judicial interests, something that has been strenuously resisted by the judiciary.

The Government also intends to "work to ensure that a legitimate and constitutional referendum can be held within this Parliament, and if the COVID crisis is over, within the first half of this Parliament", i.e. before the end of 2023.

Twelve new Government bills will be brought to Holyrood in 2021-22:

  • National Care Service, making the Scottish ministers accountable for social care, setting up a National Care Service to oversee local delivery of community health and social care, and reforming access to care and support;
  • Covid Recovery, making public health, public services and justice system reforms to support recovery, build resilience against future public health threats and maintain the benefits of modernised practices adopted during the pandemic;
  • Bail and Release from Custody, reforming how decisions are made in relation to the use of bail and remand, with support for release arrangements to enable reintegration into the community;
  • Gender Recognition, reforming the Gender Recognition Act 2004 so that trans men and women apply for legal gender recognition to the Registrar General for Scotland instead of the Gender Recognition Panel, making a statutory declaration that they have lived in the acquired gender for a minimum of three months and intend to live permanently in their acquired gender, with applications then being determined  after a three month reflection period;
  • Moveable Transactions, implementing the Scottish Law Commission Report on Moveable Transactions, leading to greater access to finance for businesses in Scotland (ministers are also considering implementing several other reports during this Parliament, such as trusts, judicial factors, contract law, title conditions, cohabitation, and damages for personal injury);
  • Miners' Strike Pardon, providing for a collective pardon to miners convicted of certain offences relating to the miners' strike of 1984‑85; 
  • Non‑Domestic Rates COVID‑19 Appeals, preventing the inappropriate use of material change of circumstances provisions in the non‑domestic rates legislation in relation to COVID‑19, or COVID‑19 restrictions;
  • Coronavirus (Compensation for Self‑isolation), continuing the modified duty on health boards to compensate people asked to voluntarily quarantine, or limit their movements or activities for COVID‑19 related reasons;
  • Fireworks and Pyrotechnics, implementing the recommendations made by the independent Firework Review Group; 
  • Fox Control, strengthening the law relating to the use of dogs to hunt and flush foxes and other wild mammals;
  • Good Food Nation, introducing a statutory requirement for the Scottish ministers and specified public authorities to publish outcomes they want to achieve in relation to food‑related issues, and the policies needed to do this;
  • and the annual Budget Bill

Two bills will continue their parliamentary scrutiny: the Carer's Allowance Supplement Bill, which will double the scheduled carers' allowance supplement in December 2021, and allow for future increases through regulations; and the Transvaginal Mesh Removal (Cost Reimbursement) (Scotland) Bill, to reimburse persons who arranged privately to have transvaginal mesh removed from their body.

The programme document also promises a Legal Aid Reform Bill during this Parliament, but in a response to the announcements the Law Society of Scotland accused the Government of "dragging its feet" over the issue. 

President Ken Dalling commented: "It’s incredibly frustrating that this legislative statement does not include legislation on reforming legal aid. Despite compelling evidence on the challenges within legal aid in ensuring access to justice, the Government is continuing to drag its feet while the funding crisis grows ever greater."

He added: "We are now years on from the Government’s own independent review of legal aid. Yet we are still waiting for the kind of reform promised. We need action now to reduce bureaucracy and, most importantly, to address the huge, unresolved funding challenges. Without the necessary action it will become impossible to ensure that those in need can access the specialist legal advice and representation they require."