Public policy highlights
Recent work of the Society's policy committees, including road traffic offences; benefits sanctions; Brexit and security; internet regulation; Planning (Scotland) Bill
The Society’s policy committees have had a busy month analysing and responding to proposed changes in the law. Key areas are highlighted below. For more information visit the Society's website.
Road traffic offences
The Criminal Law Committee responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on amending the Road Traffic Offenders Act to give police, traffic wardens and vehicle examiners dealing with low-level road traffic offences the option of issuing on-the-spot fixed penalty notices, as in England & Wales.
Extending the scheme to Scotland would promote consistency in prosecution of road traffic offences, and the committee can appreciate the arguments for reducing the number of cases being prosecuted in court. However, regardless of the system in place, it believes that the rights of the accused to opt into the justice system and to have their case determined in court must be preserved, no matter how minor the offence may appear.
Guidance would also be needed to ensure fixed penalty notices could be applied fairly, consistently and proportionately, with clarity on the types of offences covered. There may well be existing prosecution policy on when an offence merits a warning rather than a prosecution, and any proposed extension of these powers in Scotland should be exercised in accordance with such policies.
Benefits sanctions inquiry
The Administrative Justice Subcommittee responded to the House of Commons Select Committee inquiry on Department for Work & Pensions benefits sanctions.
The committee believes that reviewing decisions around sanctions, through mandatory reconsideration before appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, is not sufficiently effective or speedy to be a satisfactory means of redress, and results in real hardship for some of the most vulnerable in society. It calls on the DWP to put in place an effective mechanism for monitoring the quality of decision-making across its operations, and to undertake a review of training provided.
While there may well need to be power to make reasonable directions to claimants, and for some sanctions to be available, evidence shows that the Government’s policy objectives in this area are not being achieved. Claimants are not being treated with dignity and respect. Best practice is not being developed through learning from appeal decisions and, in some individual cases, human rights may well have been breached. There are some very serious issues to be examined in this area, and this inquiry offers a real opportunity to create a better benefit system across the UK while providing insight as a new system is developed in Scotland.
Brexit and security
The Criminal Law Committee responded to the UK Parliament’s EU Home Affairs Subcommittee inquiry into the practical and legal challenges for negotiating a security treaty with the EU.
Potential impact on the devolved administrations must be taken into account. Though security is a reserved matter, law and order, criminal law and criminal justice are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament and are relevant when considering the UK’s security.
The committee believes the highest levels of security and protection of UK and EU citizens need to be secured after Brexit. The UK must continue to co-operate with the relevant EU agencies, networks and systems on a similar basis and Scotland should play its part to fulfil its current level of commitment and responsibility.
Regulation of the internet
The Consumer and Technology Committees submitted a joint response to the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications inquiry on how the regulation of the internet should be improved, and whether a new framework is necessary.
Many regulatory frameworks can be applied in both an online and offline context, and a large part of the internet can already be said to be regulated. A better option may be to test new regulation and review existing frameworks to ensure they are applicable to the digital environment. Taking a sectoral approach also guards against the unintended consequences and potential negative impact on both businesses and consumers which may result from a one-size-fits-all approach to disparate areas.
However, new regulation to promote better business practices may prove helpful, such as the EU Commission proposal on promoting fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation. Recent events also suggest the regulation of social media platforms is an area for further consideration. However any change needs to be evidence-based and proportionate. There is a risk of damaging the UK as an attractive place to set up and invest, particularly post-Brexit.
Planning (Scotland) Bill
The Planning Law Subcommittee issued a briefing to MSPs ahead of the stage 1 debate on the Planning (Scotland) Bill. It believes that the bill as introduced is difficult to follow, which is contrary to the intention to involve the public in consultation and planning processes.
It raised concerns around the scrutiny of the National Planning Framework and the removal of strategic development plans; also around the practicalities of the evidence report stage for local development plans and the strength of community engagement in local planning.
The Policy team can be contacted on any of the matters above at firstname.lastname@example.org
and you can follow them on Twitter: @lawscot