Law reform roundup
Recent work of the Law Reform department, including Lobbying Bill; LBTT; gender pay gap reporting; domestic abuse; employment tribunals; SCTS evidence and procedure review; Scotland Act
The Society’s committees have been working on a number of Scottish and UK Parliament bills and consultations, including the LBTT (Amendment) Bill, Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill and mandatory pay gap reporting. Key areas are highlighted below.
For more information see www.lawscot.org.uk/law-reform
Lobbying (Scotland) Bill
In a briefing paper ahead of the stage 3 debate, the Society recommended that the bill be further extended to include emails (it was not), and provide clarity for people who communicate using British Sign Language. The bill creates a new lobbying register, and requires MSPs to report face-to-face meetings, whether in person or using audiovisual technology.
Land and buildings transaction tax
The Property and Tax Law Committees have updated members on the important changes brought about by the LBTT (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill, which introduces a supplementary charge on purchases of additional residential properties in Scotland (such as buy-to-let properties and second homes) of £40,000 or more. The supplement is 3% of the total purchase price and is payable from 1 April 2016. Members are strongly encouraged to read the Revenue Scotland Guidance and also the FAQ materials on the Revenue Scotland website.
Mandatory gender pay gap reporting
The Equalities Law Committee responded to a UK Government consultation on draft regulations intended to increase transparency around the differences in pay between men and women. The Society believes the regulations should include provisions requiring organisations which identify a gender pay gap to set out a plan of remedial action, and also recommended that more businesses should be included and that “pay” should include deferred remuneration and overtime.
Abusive behaviour and sexual harm
In a briefing paper ahead of the stage 3 debate on the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill, the Criminal Law Committee welcomed measures which help to improve how the justice system responds to abusive behaviour, including domestic abuse, but expressed concerns about the fragmented approach and lack of clarity surrounding the law in this area, following a number of recent changes to the criminal law. In addition, the Scottish Government is currently consulting on a distinct offence of domestic abuse. The committee also highlighted that the proposals for mandatory jury directions relating to sexual offences represent a major departure from existing practice.
Employment tribunal: transfer
The Employment Law Committee raised a number of concerns in its response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the draft Order in Council to transfer specified functions of the employment tribunal to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland. Issues highlighted include the more restrictive definition of a “Scottish case”, the need to develop the Scottish system consistently with England & Wales, and the potential impact on expertise and diversity.
Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service Review
The Society looks forward to working with partners in the justice sector following the publication of the SCTS Evidence and Procedure Review, which sets out its next steps for improving the court system. The Criminal Law Committee fully supports increased use of new technologies in our courts and the wider justice system, to make them more streamlined and effective for everyone involved.
Scotland Act 2016
The Scotland Act 2016 became law on 23 March. This important piece of constitutional law seeks to implement the report of the Smith Commission, set up in the wake of the independence referendum in September 2014. The Act provides for the permanence of the Scottish Parliament and sets part of the Sewel convention on a statutory footing (an issue which provoked controversy between the Advocate General and some crossbench and opposition peers). It also provides the Parliament with increased powers covering income tax, air passenger duty, aggregate tax, welfare benefits and employment support; and power over the Crown Estate, equal opportunities, tribunals including employment tribunals, some aspects of road traffic law, the British Transport Police, consumer advocacy and advice, certain gaming machines and abortion.
The Society was closely involved in briefing MPs and peers of all parties during the passage of the Act and prepared many clarifying amendments. It also briefed and gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee as it considered the bill. The committee’s final report cites the Society’s views on a number of points.