News In Focus
Legal reforms dominate new Parliament programme
Reforms directly affecting legal practice figure strongly in the legislative programme announced today for the forthcoming year in the Scottish Parliament – the final 12 months before the independence referendum.
Among 13 new bills in the Programme for Government are measures on civil courts reform, damages, licensing, conclusion of contracts, and consolidation of the bankruptcy legislation.
As expected, the Courts Reform Bill will implement many of the recommendations of the Gill review, including moving the majority of Court of Session cases to the sheriff court by increasing the jurisdiction threshold of the superior court, and creating new summary sheriffs to hear lower value cases.
The Damages Bill will extend the limitation period in cases of personal injury, set out a non-exhaustive list of factors for the court to consider when asked to allow an action to proceed outwith that time, and allow the court to make an order for periodical payments rather than a lump sum, whether or not the parties agree.
Under the Conclusion of Contracts (etc) Bill, all contracts will be able to be formally concluded using email – the execution in counterpart reform on which the Scottish Law Commission recently produced a draft bill.
Licensing law will see new provisions dealing with alcohol, taxis and private hire cars, and scrap metal dealers, all following recent consultations – and new regimes covering air weapons and sexual entertainment venues.
And the Bankruptcy Consolidation (Scotland) Bill "represents the final stage of a legislative process to bring in the AiB vision of a ‘Financial Health Service’, providing rehabilitation to individuals and organisations in relation to their financial pressures".
First Minister Alex Salmond, in a statement to the Parliament, also pledged to use the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill – one of 10 pieces of current Government legislation still proceeding through Holyrood – to end automatic early release of prisoners who present the most serious potential risks to the public.
Among the other bills anounced today:
- a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill will enable communities to take ownership of public land and buildings, and make more transparent the management of common good land;
- the Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill will establish Revenue Scotland as the tax authority responsible for collecting the new devolved taxes;
- a Scottish Welfare Fund Bill will provide help to vulnerable members of the community in a financial emergency, helping to avoid people potentially going into care;
- a Housing Bill will end the right to buy in the social housing sector, create a new Housing Tribunal for the private rented sector and increase local authority powers regarding the maintenance of privately owned homes;
- the Mental Health Bill is intended to speed up the procedures under which people access treatment for mental disorders;
- the Food Standards (Scotland) Bill will establish a new body to take over all of the old functions of the Food Standards Agency, the removal of which by the UK Government is said to have led to difficulties in handling the horsemeat scandal;
- and a final bill will combine the functions of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS).
Mr Salmond said the programme was "testament to the reality that decisions about Scotland are best taken in Scotland".
Click here for more details on the programme.