Law reform roundup
Recent work of the Society's Law Reform Department, including Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill; civil and criminal justice; victims and witnesses
Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill
Further to last month’s update, the Society has been successful in influencing an amendment obliging the Adjudicator to give reasons for any actions undertaken following an investigation. At third reading in the House of Lords, a Government amendment was passed which specifically referenced the Arbitration (Scotland) Act 2010, fulfilling an objective in amendments previously submitted by the Society. The bill now passes to the Commons.
Civil and criminal justice
The Society submitted written evidence to the Justice Committee on the Scottish Civil Justice Council and Criminal Legal Assistance Bill on 27 July. The legislation would establish a Civil Justice Council and introduce financial contributions for criminal legal aid. While the Society agrees that people who can afford to pay towards their legal representation should do so, it is of the opinion that the payment threshold (£68 disposable income per week) is unrealistically low. The Society also argues that the Scottish Legal Aid Board rather than solicitors should collect the contributions, to ensure a consistent system. SLAB already collects contributions in civil cases and has procedures in place to carry out large-scale collection.
The Society is supportive of the introduction of one overarching Civil Justice Council, but has serious concerns about the Council having only two solicitor members, compared with five on each of the existing Court of Session and Sheriff Court Rules Councils. The Society is calling for at least six solicitor members on the new Council.
The full response can be found at www.lawscot.org.uk/forthepublic/law-reform-consultations/bills/scottish-civil-justice-council-and-criminal-legal-assistance-bill
Victims and witnesses
The Criminal Law Committee responded to the Scottish Government consultation Making Justice Work for Victims and Witnesses in July. The committee is generally supportive of the policy intent, but has concerns about how additional resource will be provided, given the current funding constraints and financial cutbacks. Highlights of the response include the committee’s concerns surrounding the proposals for a higher degree of case-specific information being provided to victims, which raises confidentiality issues. It is proposed that extensive information could be shared with victims and witnesses at the earliest stages of investigation and pre-trial, without, it would appear, account being taken of the presumption of innocence.
The committee also agrees with the proposal that a child witness should be a person under the age of 18, but is of the view that an accused person under 18 should also be considered as a child. It notes that Lord Carloway has made the same recommendation in relation to suspects in his report. The committee also made detailed comment on support for communication needs, visual recording of vulnerable witnesses’ evidence, and restitution orders.
The Society’s full response can be found at www.lawscot.org.uk/forthepublic/law-reform-consultations/2012/criminal-law
The Society has also submitted written evidence on the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, responded to the IPO’s call for evidence on the IPO Mediation Service, and responded to a number of other consultations, including the Scotland Office paper Reforming the law on Scottish unincorporated associations and criminal liability of Scottish partnerships, as well as the Scottish Government’s Integration of Adult Health and Social Care in Scotland.