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Law reform roundup

13 July 15

Recent work of the Society's Law Reform department, including Scotland Bill; early release of prisoners; mental health; compulsory purchase orders; alcohol control

Scotland Bill

The Constitutional Law Committee promoted 14 amendments for committee stage at Westminster, all of which were tabled for debate by opposition members. They focused on removing any doubt as to the permanency of the Scottish Parliament; and the Sewel Convention, suggesting more robust wording to ensure the Westminster Parliament would not legislate on devolved matters without Holyrood’s consent.

The committee also called for the regulation of estate agents to be devolved, which would allow the Scottish Parliament to make law more closely aligned to the Scottish legal system and the needs of consumers in Scotland.

Prisoners (Control of Early Release)

This bill, passed by MSPs on 23 June, will end automatic early release on licence after two-thirds of a sentence for all long-term prisoners; they will now be released six months before the end of their sentence. During the bill’s passage, the Society raised concerns that the biggest change in custodial sentencing in 22 years was being introduced without a full consultation, such as the 14-month review undertaken by Lord Kincraig ahead of the introduction of the parole system; and that the Scottish Government substantially changed the bill at stage 2 to cover all long-term prisoners. The Society believes that six months is inadequate time to reintegrate an offender into the community successfully, and the focus should now be on ensuring sufficient resources are in place to reduce the risk of reoffending, through increased provision of relevant offence-focused work in custody and a properly funded rehabilitation programme, followed by proper support for released prisoners during their reintegration.

Mental Health (Scotland) Bill

This bill was unanimously passed by MSPs at stage 3 on 24 June. The Mental Health & Disability Committee is of the view that the bill will bring further clarity to the 2003 legislation. The committee was particularly pleased that the bill was amended after stage 2 to remove the proposed extension of short-term detention from five to 10 days, and at stage 3 to extend the right of appeal against cross-border transfers to named persons and other relevant parties. However, a number of concerns were not addressed; in particular, proposals to give a right of appeal to curators ad litem and to introduce the use of recorded matters in compulsion orders and compulsion and restriction orders were not accepted by the Government.

Compulsory purchase orders

The Society’s response to the Scottish Law Commission’s discussion paper states that a properly drafted new Act could result in a more efficient and fairer system of compulsory purchase and compensation which benefits the economy and social justice. It considers the current definition of “land” to be too restrictive and that it should include airspace rights. It agrees that powers for temporary possession would be useful, particularly where access is required during construction, and that the right to compensation on a compulsory purchase order should be put on the face of the new statute.

Alcohol (Licensing etc) (Scotland) Bill

The Licensing Committee submitted written evidence on the Alcohol (Licensing, Public Health and Criminal Justice) (Scotland) Bill. It supports the policy intent of the bill to promote public health and reduce alcohol-related offending, but questions whether its provisions will achieve this.

The committee questions how s 6, which makes it an offence to advertise alcohol in a prohibited place, such as a school, could be enforced in practice, for example if a poster for an event with an alcohol sponsor is displayed in a neighbouring home. It also questions proposed “drinking banning orders”, how they would be enforced and how premises licence holders will know who has had a banning order imposed.

Full details of the above, and further information on the current work of the Law Reform department, can be found at www.lawscot.org.uk/forthepublic/law-reform-consultations-and-bills
The team can be contacted on any of the matters above through louisedocherty@lawscot.org.uk, or follow us on Twitter: @lawscot 

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