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26th November 2021

A free early morning round up of news for legal professionals across Scotland.
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Sentencing Council business plan published
The Scottish Sentencing Council has published its 2021-24 Business Plan. Having completed its suite of general guidelines which apply to all offences in Scotland, the Council will focus during the plan period on: domestic abuse, where the range of offending has recently been extended by legislation which also requires consideration to be given to specific matters when sentencing; sexual offences, which account for a high proportion of sentencing particularly in the High Court, often involving complex circumstances; death by driving offences, a matter of "significant public concern" presenting difficult assessments with varying levels of culpability in relation to the serious harm caused; and environmental and wildlife offences, where "the harm and culpability involved might be quite different from the majority of criminal offences" and there may be significant public policy issues for the court to consider. In addition, work will continue on a guideline on sentence discounting where a guilty plea has been tendered, a topic which "presents significant opportunities to improve public understanding of sentencing and to assist with predictability". The Council has also indicated its desire to increase activity in pursuit of its statutory objective to assist with policy development and to help ensure that proposals relating to sentencing are fully considered and practicable. 
SCJC’s virtual court proposals criticised by Law Society
The Law Society of Scotland has ruled that the Scottish Civil Justice Committee’s (SCJC) consultation on rules around the mode of attendance at civil court hearings lacks a solid evidence base to inform its proposals. It comes after the SCJC consulted on proposed changes to rules governing attendance at civil court hearings. The proposals involve increased use of virtual hearings, including for all commercial hearings, including proofs, and many appeals. Iain Nicol, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Civil Justice Committee, commented: “We recognise that the courts should not necessarily revert to how they operated pre-COVID. These views are consistent across the sector with the Faculty of Advocates reporting that while 91% of members surveyed agreed that remote hearings are a useful addition to the options for court hearings, less than 20% were in favour of remote hearings of legal argument, and less than 5% for witness evidence."
The Legal 500
The Press and Journal carries The Legal 500 supplement, noting that 18 experts across six disciplines have been recognised in the Legal 500 and Chambers UK 2022 directories this year. The guides rank lawyers and law firms based on several factors and considerations, backed up by in-depth research.Ken Dalling, President of the Law Society of Scotland, praises the sector weathering through the pandemic, but also notes that new legislation is needed to better protect consumers and allow the Scottish legal services market to thrive.
Session Cases bicentenary marked
The bicentenary of Session Cases has been celebrated in Edinburgh at a gathering of lawyers, judges and students. Angela Grahame QC, chair of the SCLR’s board of trustees,remarked: “Session Cases are the oldest report series in the UK and Commonwealth and the second longest running series of law reports in the common law world, sitting only behind the Supreme Court of the United States.”
Solicitor advocate introductory course announced
The next introductory course for prospective solicitor advocates, run by the Society of Solicitor Advocates, will take place on Friday, 14 January via Zoom. The half-day course is for any solicitor wishing to apply for extended rights of audience in the civil or criminal courts. The course provides practical training explaining the application process and the standards and training required to obtain extended rights of audience in the court. Speakers on the day will include Lord Ericht, Lord Armstrong and the Law Society of Scotland's Accreditation Manager of Education, Training and Qualifications, Sonia Gentile-Mills.

Company's collapse calls future of 'new town' into question
Doubts have been raised over the future of the £800m "new town" of Countesswells, near Aberdeen, after the firm responsible for managing the development called in administrators. Countesswell Development Limited, wholly owned by Stewart Milne, blamed disruption due to the oil and gas downturn, along with the pandemic, for the decision. While existing projects are not expected to be at risk, with parcels of land having already been sold to other housebuilders, only around 900 of a planned 3,000 homes have been completed or are under construction, raising doubts over the future of the project. 

Legal bid to uncover Trump's Scottish golf course finances fails
A legal bid to force Holyrood to investigate how Donald Trump paid for two Scottish golf courses has failed. Lawyers for human rights organisation AVAAZ argued Scottish ministers were wrong not to pursue an unexplained wealth order probe against the former US President. It wanted a probe into the financing of the Menie golf course in Aberdeenshire and the Turnberry resort in Ayrshire. Aidan O'Neill QC said that it is the Scottish ministers and not Scotland's most senior prosecutor, the Lord Advocate, who are responsible for ordering an unexplained wealth order investigation. At the Court of Session Lord Sandison found that ministers had acted lawfully and in line with legislation. In a written judgment issued on Thursday, he rejected the arguments made by the New York-based human rights group.
Three charged with 1996 murder of schoolgirl
Three people have appeared in court charged with the murder of schoolgirl Caroline Glachan more than 25 years ago. The body of the 14-year-old was discovered on the banks of the River Leven, near Place of Bonhill in Renton, West Dunbartonshire, on 25 August 1996. Robert O'Brien, 43, Andrew Kelly and Donna Brand, both 42, appeared in private before Dumbarton Sheriff Court. They made no plea or declaration and were remanded in custody. Mr O'Brien, Mr Kelly and Ms Brand, all from Dumbarton, will return to court next week.

Amazon workers to protest Black Friday conditions
Amazon workers in the UK are among those planning to protest against the company’s treatment of workers on Black Friday, with strikes also planned in the US and several EU countries. UK trade union GMB has backed the action, although no UK Amazon warehouses are unionised so UK workers will not strike. However, campaign groups are planning to protest at Amazon buildings in Coalville, Leicestershire, Coventry, Peterborough and at its London headquarters. The Make Amazon Pay group has called for the firm to make changes including pay raises for warehouse workers, extending sick leave and paying taxes without using loopholes or tax havens.

Protestors to call for park safety improvements
Hundreds of protestors are expected to gather in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Park on December 10 to urge Glasgow City Council to do more to improve the safety of city parks and streets after dark. The demonstration is part of Clyde 1 & 2's #LightTheWay campaign. Spokesperson Natalie Crawford says the demonstration "will ensure that decision-makers know that we will not stay silent and that women’s, and all Glaswegian’s, safety at night should be a top priority. We are anticipating a good turnout which will reflect the strength of feeling about the campaign - we must protect women better."
Report highlights scale of fuel poverty
A report to Highland Council's corporate resources committee has highlighted the scale of rural poverty in the council area - with a third of households facing fuel poverty, and 22% living in extreme fuel poverty, almost double the average across Scotland. Households in the Highlands, the report notes, pay more than the average for their fuel, with average annual bills of £1,759 for dual-fuel households, compared to the average of £1,138. Cllr Bill Lobban called for the council to invest in building more energy-efficient homes and in retrofitting existing homes, with fuel poverty a particular risk for rural homes without access to mains gas.
Ministers under fire over care home deaths report
A report in the Scotsman has claimed that Public Health Scotland (PHS) sought to delay publication of a report into deaths from COVID-19 in care homes until after the election. The report was originally scheduled for publication on March 24, with that date later changed to "TBC", with a note stating "delay until after election being explored", the paper says. While PHS has said the proximity of the election - and civil service rules preventing publication during the pre-election period - was the reason for the note, the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour have questioned the failure to publish the report, and whether PHS was put under pressure by ministers to delay publication. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the attacks as a "slur on the good people who work in Public Health Scotland", and said the data on deaths had instead been incorporated into a separate report published on April 21, before the election.

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