Legal Matters Scotland
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17th March 2023

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MSPs approve reforms to Scotland’s bail laws
Reforms to Scotland’s bail laws have been approved in principle by Holyrood. The Scottish Parliament approved the general principles of the legislation by 70 votes to 29, with 19 abstentions. Justice Secretary Keith Brown insisted proposals in the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill “reduce crime, reduce reoffending and make Scotland safer”. As well as changing the law so offenders are not released from prison on Fridays, or the day before public holidays, the Bill makes changes to the bail system used by courts to decide if accused persons should be imprisoned ahead of trial. Organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid have voiced concerns that the reforms as currently planned could allow “convicted repeat and serial abusers” being granted bail, allowing them to remain in the community. But Mr Brown said there were “long-standing concerns about the use of remand in Scotland” – telling MSPs that at the start of February almost three out of 10 prisoners (29%) were in on remand. Speaking in Holyrood, the Justice Secretary said: “It should be a concern to us all that the number of people held on remand remains at historic highs.
Legislation to ‘strengthen and modernise’ charity laws
Social justice secretary Shona Robison has said Scottish Government reforms to charity laws will help keep trust in the sector high. Ministers are seeking to “strengthen, modernise and improve charity regulation” by updating the existing laws, which date back to 2005. Ministers have brought forward the Charities (Regulation and Administration) Bill, which aims to increase transparency and accountability across the sector, as well as improve the powers of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). The new legislation updates the criteria for the automatic disqualification of charity trustees, and also extends this to those in some specific senior management positions in charities. The Bill would also require all charities on the Scottish Charity Register to have and retain a connection to Scotland, and would require OSCR to publish statements of account for all charities listed on the register.

Sheriff courts backlog will last for years
The Covid trials backlog in Scottish sheriff courts is likely to last for at least another five years. Minutes of a Crown Office meeting show that officials believe it will be a "challenging area of business for the next five years or so". Courts were closed during the pandemic, which exacerbated existing backlogs. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said: "The overall number of scheduled trials has now fallen by 33% since the peak of 43,606 in January 2022 - a 61% reduction in the backlog that accrued during the Covid-19 pandemic." The Crown Office said the trials backlog requires a "system-wide approach."

Knight Frank issues warning over forthcoming changes to property relief in Scotland
Knight Frank says that new rules being implemented as part of changes to the non-domestic rates system in Scotland could cause confusion for landlords and property investors. The company claimed that among the adjustments being brought in as part of the most recent settlement between the Scottish Government and local authorities, empty property relief will be devolved to councils from April 1 of this year, allowing them to set different rules and conditions for exemption. The property consultancy that under the current relief regime applied nationally, vacant industrial properties are given 100% for six months, followed by 10%, but some local authorities have already proposed changes and others will likely choose to do so, with the reliefs set to be reviewed annually. Scott Hogan, head of Scotland industrial and logistics at Knight Frank, said: “The new rules mean that local authorities can, and likely will, have different reliefs across Scotland, creating an uneven playing field. This will introduce an added degree of complexity for landlords and investors, and will almost certainly create confusion for anyone with property interests in multiple council areas.”
Hundreds of renovated Aberdeen homes to house refugees
Aberdeen City Council has completed renovation work on 250 homes to be used to provide accommodation for refugees from Ukraine, around half of a total of 500 to be renovated by next April. The work was backed by £6.15m in funding from the Scottish Government's Longer Term Resettlement Fund. Neil Gray, the minister for refugees from Ukraine, said the "lessons learned from this project have already been applied to other areas where councils are bringing void properties back into use and I am grateful for the creative and proactive approach the council has taken."
Police plan crackdown on 'incel' culture
Police are planning to tackle incel culture as part of their strategy to deal with violence against women and girls. The strategy was presented in a report at the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) policing performance committee on Thursday, with a number of recommendations. Proposals within the strategy include tackling and diverting incel culture through education, as well as delivering trauma-informed training to all police officers and staff. The police report described incel – which stands for involuntary celibates – culture as a “misogynistic ideology” where men believe women are to blame for their lack of intimate relationships and as a result should be verbally, physically or sexually assaulted. Launching the strategy, deputy chief constable Jane Connors said: “We are committed to creating a society where women and girls live free from violence, abuse, exploitation and harassment."
Payout for family of baby badly burned at nursery
A family has received a five-figure payout after their 10-month-old son was burned by a bucket of boiled water containing bleach at an Aberdeen nursery. Blake Nilssen, who is now two, was badly injured at Little Dreams Nursery in Aberdeen in November 2021. Lawyers for the family said the out-of-court compensation would be set aside in a trust for Blake until he turns 16. It had emerged last year that staff failed to call an ambulance. Blake was taken to hospital after his parents were alerted. The Care Inspectorate upheld a complaint against the nursery, which put new training in place. Neil Davidson, of Digby Brown Solicitors in Aberdeen, led the legal action. "No parent should have to worry about the welfare of their child when placing them into the care of professionals", he said. "I sincerely hope parents and care providers everywhere consider the gravity of what happened in this very harrowing ordeal and take steps to ensure such incidents are never repeated".
Domestic abuse rugby star given community sentence
A Scottish rugby player who admitted abusing his girlfriend has been ordered to do 120 hours of unpaid work. Rufus McLean, 22, admitted abusing Cara Haston over a period of almost two years. Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard the former Glasgow Warriors player pushed, hurled abuse at, and tracked Ms Haston. Her family released a statement saying she had received verbal abuse from members of the rugby community despite Mr McLean's admission of wrongdoing. Giving Mr McLean a community payback order, Sheriff Matthew Auchincloss said the behaviour was "aggressive" and "controlling". "This behaviour has caused significant harm to your former partner," he said, adding that Mr McLean "should have known there was a risk of harm". But the sheriff said unpaid work would be an "appropriate alternative to custody", reducing the usual 200-hour community payback order because of his youth and early guilty plea.
SNP leadership rejects attacks on election integrity
Senior SNP figures have rejected criticism of the party's leadership election process, including from candidates Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, who have called for an independent audit of the vote. SNP president Mike Russell said he has "full confidence" in the "external verification" process, saying he was "disgusted at the abuse" directed at party staff "by individuals who damage our cause and aid our enemies". Deputy First Minister John Swinney stressed that the contest "is being conducted by an independent ballot services company, that is an independent organisation. They have got a professional reputation to deliver ballot services effectively and without question." First Minister Nicola Sturgeon similarly defended the process, noting it had been used for three deputy leadership elections, and adding: "As far as I can tell, there are no specific concerns being raised, it's a general concern, and I don't think that general concern is justified." Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer criticised the party, saying the leadership contest had descended into a "squabble"

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