Law Society Concerned at Sectarianism Bill Timescale

The Law Society of Scotland has today expressed concerns that the Scottish Government’s bill to combat sectarianism will be pushed through parliamentary procedure too quickly and the lack of scrutiny could result in legislation that may be open to successful challenge.

Bill McVicar Convener of the Society’s Criminal Law Committee said: “We understand the importance of tackling sectarianism.This is a very serious issue and one that needs both attention and action from our political leaders.  However, it is because of the importance of this issue that the Scottish Government needs to allow adequate time to ensure the legislation can be properly scrutinised. It is particularly vital for sufficient time to be allowed at stage 1, the evidence gathering stage, for proper public consultation.

“Without this consultation there is the risk that the legislation could be passed which either does not meet its objective or is inconsistent with existing law, making it unworkable. It could also result in legislation that is open to successful challenge.”

The Offensive Behaviour at Football & Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill was published by the Scottish Government today.

Cameron Ritchie, president of the Law Society said: “When talking to stakeholders during the research for our manifesto 2011, there was a clear consensus that care and time should be taken during the legislative process to ensure legalisation is right first time, thereby reducing the need for laws to be brought back at a later stage for amendment.
 “This echoes the findings of the Scottish Parliament’s review in 2004 into its legislative procedure which said there was a clear need for a less pressurised legislative process.

“In any event, if this legislation is passed, it should be subject to early post legislative review to ensure that it is working effectively.”

ENDS                                                                          17 JUNE 2011

Notes to editors

The creation of the Scottish Parliament and its committee system has served to revolutionise that way the public is engaged in Scotland’s decision making process. Stage 1 of the process, the committee stage, ensures Government is held to account and legislation is properly scrutinised. The committee structure of Scottish Parliament is recognised as one of the signal successes of the Scotland Act 1998.

Government policies usually afford a 12 week pre introduction consultation before moving to legislate.

The Procedures Committee published a seventh report in 2004 and stated in that report “It is vital that sufficient time is allowed for the Stage 1 enquiry”.

The Committee recommended that the lead committee should always be able to allow at least six to eight weeks for the submission of written evidence and that the overall timetable fro Stage 1 should take proper account of the time needed for oral evidence and consideration of a draft report.

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