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Public policy highlights

17 June 19

Recent work of the Society's policy committees, including succession; vulnerable witnesses; environmental protections; physical punishment of children

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 see www.lawscot.org.uk/research-and-policy/  

Succession law

The Trusts & Succession Law Subcommittee responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on succession law.

Aspects of the law covering inheritance rules in Scotland could be made fairer. The committee also highlighted anomalies in the current law providing rights to cohabiting couples, which are problematic and disadvantageous to vulnerable and grieving individual people, since a claim must be made to the court within six months of the date of the death of the cohabitant. It welcomes the Scottish Government’s intention to extend the period to 12 months from the date of death, but suggests an additional extension of up to six months from the date of confirmation if that takes longer than 12 months. 

But the committee stressed the importance of making a will as the best way to ensure that an individual’s wishes are properly covered.

Vulnerable witnesses

The Criminal Law Committee issued a briefing to MSPs ahead of the stage 3 debate on the Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill.

It fully supports the principles of the bill in improving how children and vulnerable witnesses give evidence, and the inclusion of domestic abuse as a relevant category of offence, but has concerns relating to practical implications of the bill. There should be early identification by the Crown of relevant cases which require the use of new support measures in court – and adequate resources for the Crown and defence (through legal aid) to ensure these new measures can be utilised effectively.

Environmental protections

The Environmental Law Subcommittee responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation on environmental principles and governance in Scotland post-Brexit.

It supports proposals to maintain a role for EU environmental principles in developing future Scottish policy. The proposed duty on Scottish ministers in relation to the EU principles in developing future environmental policy in Scotland should also extend to public authorities, and the committee calls for clear guidance as to how the principles are to be treated.

However the absence of EU governance mechanisms could reduce environmental governance and scrutiny. While it can be challenging to galvanise action by the European bodies, the international oversight will be lost, and it is important that individuals are able to raise concerns and have them followed through by an appropriate expert and well resourced body.

Physical punishment of children

The Criminal Law Committee issued a briefing to MSPs ahead of the stage 1 debate on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill.

It called for clarification of the law, which has led to confusion amongst parents and carers and has also made it more difficult for public services to have confidence in their approach when working with parents. 

The public has a right to know what they can and cannot do so far as the criminal law is concerned, and removing the defence of reasonable chastisement would provide further clarity. 

The Policy team can be contacted on any of the matters above at policy@lawscot.org.uk
Twitter: @lawscot

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