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Law reform roundup

18 July 16

Recent work of the Law Reform department, including EU referendum; age of criminal responsibility; environmental justice; immigration and asylum tribunal fees; taxi/private hire licensing; annuities

The Society’s committees have been working on a number of Scottish Parliament and UK Parliament bills and consultations. Key areas are highlighted below. For more information see www.lawscot.org.uk/law-reform

European Union referendum

The vote to leave the EU marks the start of monumental change for the UK and our relationship with the rest of Europe. The Society will closely monitor the UK Government’s negotiations with the EU as they develop during this transitional period through to implementation of the final agreement, ensuring that members’ interests are represented to law and policy makers and assessing what the outcome will mean for members: for business, for practice rights, for the domestic legislative process and for future interaction with the EU.

A Q&A page has been added to the EU referendum section on the Society’s website alongside the discussion paper issued before the referendum, which considers the position of solicitors currently working in other EU jurisdictions as well as how particular areas of UK and Scots law stand to be affected by a UK exit: see www.lawscot.org.uk/eu-referendum

Minimum age of criminal responsibility

The Criminal Law Committee responded to a Scottish Government advisory group consultation on raising the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12. It fully supports the proposal. It is crucial that children’s welfare is the focus of attention even in the difficult circumstances of offending behaviour. The committee does not think children under the age of 12 should have their actions recorded as criminal. However it is concerned about the group’s suggestion that the police should have an unspecified power of detention where a child’s parents or carers are not willing to cooperate with necessary enquiries by police or social workers.

Environmental justice

The Environmental Law Committee responded to a Scottish Government consultation on whether further change is needed in the justice landscape to protect wildlife and the environment, and to provide better access to justice in civil environmental cases. The Society believes that environmental justice is much wider than the cases which come to court, and is concerned that this consultation considers only court reform rather than the wider system of environmental justice in Scotland. The consultation fails to embrace the range of ways in which environmental justice can be sought.

Immigration and asylum tribunal fees

The Immigration & Asylum Law Committee, Administrative Justice Committee and Access to Justice Committee responded to a Ministry of Justice consultation on proposals to increase the fees charged in the First-tier Tribunal, and to introduce fees for permission to appeal applications and appeals heard in the Upper Tribunal. They disagree with all proposals on fees for immigration and asylum appeals and are concerned by this approach to duties and obligations under the Equality Act 2010. They do not believe that restricting access to justice to several groups of First-tier Tribunal users can be justified on the grounds of “managing public money”, or that this can be considered as acceptable policy in a democratic society founded on the rule of law.

Taxi and private hire car licensing

The Licensing Law Committee responded to a Scottish Government consultation on the impact of modern technology on the licensing regime for taxis and private hire cars. It believes that the influence of modern technology has created potential confusion between the separate regimes and that ministers should consider whether a fundamental overhaul of the present two tier system is needed. In the interests of public safety, both operators and drivers will have to continue to be licensed, so clear thought needs to be given to whether further licensing is necessary.

Secondary annuity market

The Pensions Law Committee responded to two separate consultations on the proposed secondary market for pension annuities. The creation of this market is intended to extend greater flexibility and freedom to people who had little choice but to buy an annuity with their pension pot. A consultation from HMRC laid out the proposed detail of the tax framework, and the Financial Conduct Authority consulted on proposed rules and guidance for these new regulated activities.

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