A very civil partnership

Photo by Han-Hsing Tu on Unsplash

Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage to paraphrase the words of the old song from the 1950s …

… but not for much longer in Scotland if the Scottish Government has its way. A new Bill lodged by the Government this week will potentially revolutionise legal unions for heterosexual couples who want commitment but not, critically, in the form of marriage.

The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 was originally passed by the UK Government of Prime Minister Tony Blair in order to permit same sex couples to enter a legally binding relationship. At the time, the Blair Government stressed that this type of legal arrangement was not open to heterosexual couples and should not be regarded as “gay marriage”.

This legislation also extended the same employment benefits that married couples already enjoyed to same sex couples who entered a civil partnership. In relation to the field of employment rights, the Act applies to employment and pension benefits e.g. a concessionary travel scheme and civil partners of an employee will be entitled to take advantage of these if existing provisions permit a heterosexual partner or spouse of an employee to claim these benefits.

In Bull and Another v Preddy and Another [2013] UKSC 73, UK Supreme Court Justice, Baroness Hale made the following remarks about civil partnerships:

“Civil partnership is not called marriage but in almost every other respect it is indistinguishable from the status of marriage in United Kingdom law. It was introduced so that same sex couples could voluntarily assume towards one another the same legal responsibilities, and enjoy the same legal rights, as married couples assume and enjoy. It is more than a contract. Like marriage, it is a status, in which some of the terms are prescribed by law, and which has consequences for people other than the couple themselves and for the state.”

Fast forward a decade or so and we now have same sex marriage in Scotland, England and Wales – but not yet Northern Ireland (although the clock may be ticking here on this issue). Admittedly, same sex couples can enter civil partnerships in Northern Ireland, but since the Republic of Ireland made same sex marriage legal in 2015, pressure has been mounting for change in the North.

This means that same sex couples have the option of entering into marriage or civil partnership. This choice is still denied to heterosexual couples – until now, hence the introduction of the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

Traditional marriage between a man and woman has been criticised on a number of grounds:

• It’s seen as very patriarchal i.e. historically it unduly favours the male partner

• It has religious associations which are not in keeping with the fact that the UK is (in 2019) a much more secular society

• Some heterosexual couples are increasingly attracted to a more equitable and modern form of legal commitment i.e. civil partnership.

Despite these criticisms of traditional marriage, until recently neither the UK or Scottish Governments had shown a desire to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. That is until very recently and a UK Supreme Court decision has now made reform of the institution of marriage and civil partnership essential on the basis of a human rights challenge.

The case which started the ball rolling was Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education [2016].

In Steinfeld and Keidan, an unmarried, heterosexual couple brought a claim for unlawful less favourable treatment against the UK Government on the basis that the law (contained in the Civil Partnership Act 2004) discriminated against them by forcing them to enter marriage as opposed to their preferred option of a civil partnership arrangement. The couple had strong “ideological objections” to marriage (irrespective of whether it took a religious or civil form) and argued, amongst other things, that the failure by the United Kingdom to give them the option of entering a civil partnership was a potential breach of their Article 8 rights (the right to privacy and family life) in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ban on civil partnerships for heterosexual couples was also a potential breach of the Equality Act 2010 in the sense that it represented direct discrimination on grounds of a person’s sexual orientation.

Initially, the English High Court rejected the challenge brought by Steinfeld and Keidan, whereupon the case was allowed to proceed to the English Court of Appeal. Although expressing sympathy for Steinfeld and Keidan’s predicament, the Lord Justices of Appeal refused to overturn the ban.

On 27 June 2018, the Court issued its decision: R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary) [2018] UKSC 32.

Lord Kerr gave the leading judgement (with which his fellow Justices concurred) and allowed Steinfeld and Keidan’s appeal:

I would allow the appeal and make a declaration that sections 1 and 3 of CPA [Civil Partnership Act 2004] (to the extent that they preclude a different sex couple from entering into a civil partnership) are incompatible with article 14 of ECHR taken in conjunction with article 8 of the Convention.

If, post Steinfeld and Keidan, the Scottish Government continued to allow civil partnership legislation to operate in its original form, there was a very real risk that the Scottish Ministers would be taken to court and challenged by heterosexual couples (using Steinfeld and Keidan [2018]) on human rights grounds.

The solution?

Letting the status quo prevail in Scotland was not an option because of the implications for human rights, so the Scottish Government announced a public consultation on civil partnerships in September 2018:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-45675690

This consultation closed on 21 December 2018 and presented two options:

  • Abolishing the option of future civil partnerships for all; or
  • Permitting heterosexual couples to have the option of marriage or civil partnership.

A link to the Scottish Government’s consultation paper can be found below:

https://consult.gov.scot/family-law/the-future-of-civil-partnership-in-scotland/

On the back of this consultation, the Scottish Government has now introduced the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill in order to implement option 2.

As the Policy Memorandum accompanying this Bill clearly states:

In Scotland, couples can marry or enter into a civil partnership, or choose to cohabit. Same sex and mixed sex couples can marry, and same sex and mixed sex couples can decide to cohabit. Civil partnership is currently available only to same sex couples, but this Bill will extend the relationship to mixed sex couples.”

It is more than likely that this Bill will command significant support in the Scottish Parliament and will soon become law.

An info graphic showing the current progress of this Bill can be seen below:

A link to BBC Scotland’s website about the introduction of the Bill can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-49889498

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 4 October 2019

Doing time …?

Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

In a previous blog (“Commit the crime, do the time?” published on 4 March 2019), I examined the role of the Scottish Sentencing Council (established as a result of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010) in relation to the imposition of various sentences on convicted offenders. The Council took up its role from 2015 onwards.

On Monday 12 June 2019, the second most senior judge sitting in Scotland, Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk, announced that the Scottish Sentencing Council would conducting a public consultation in an attempt “to demystify” the factors by which a criminal court takes into consideration when imposing punishment on the offender.

The consultation exercise will tackle a perception which exists (rightly or wrongly) amongst the public that sentencing can be extremely inconsistent. It will address this problem by highlighting issues which are likely to be considered aggravating factors by a judge and thus lead to the imposition of a longer sentence. Aggravating factors would include whether the crime was premeditated or in situations where a weapon was used. Conversely, it is hoped that the exercise will pinpoint mitigating factors that a judge takes into account when a lighter sentence is passed e.g. genuine remorse shown on the part of the offender or any negative consequences that the offender’s children are likely to suffer.

Readers may wish to take part in the public consultation exercise and can so by clicking on the link below at the Sentencing Council’s website:

https://consultations.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk/ssc/the-sentencing-process/consultation/subpage.2019-05-29.0933048382/

In order to assist the public and other interested parties to complete the survey, the Council has provided a number of documents which can be accessed via the link below:

https://consultations.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk/ssc/the-sentencing-process/

The closing date for participation in this exercise is 6 September 2019.

A link to an article on the BBC website about the exercise can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-48556439

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee

This week, in a related matter, the Justice Committee at Holyrood (by 7 votes to 2) decided to support plans by the Scottish Government, which if carried, would extend the presumption against short prison sentences.

Currently, in Scotland, there is a presumption against the imposition of prison sentences of less than 6 months and the court will most likely impose an alternative punishment.

Interestingly, on 19 February 2019, Scottish Legal News reported that David Gauke MP, the UK Government’s Justice Minister, had stated that he would introduce legislation in England and Wales in order to follow current, Scottish criminal practice as regards sentencing i.e. a presumption against prison terms of less than 6 months:

https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/england-follows-scotland-s-lead-on-presumption-against-short-sentences

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 13 June 2019

Stalkers beware!

Photo by Jaanus Jagomägi on Unsplash

A few of my recent blogs have discussed the legislative process in the Scottish Parliament and several Bills that are already undergoing scrutiny and debate at Holyrood.

So, when quickly glancing at the Scottish Parliament’s website today, I was very interested to see a proposal for a Member’s Bill which wishes to toughen the law on stalking in Scotland.

The proposed measure (if given the green light) would take the form of a Stalking Protection (Scotland) Bill and it would have a simple rationale:

“… to increase protection for victims of stalking by giving police the power to apply for stalking protection orders on behalf of victims.”

Stalking was made a specific criminal offence as a result of Section 39 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, but Rona Mackay MSP, the proposer of the measure clearly believes that the current law needs to be tightened in order to give victims of stalking more protection.

As part of her rationale, Ms Mackay makes reference to England and Wales where the Stalking Protection Act 2019 has been introduced. This legislation gives the a Chief Constable of a Police area south of the border the power to apply to a Magistrates’ Court for a stalking prevention order. Clearly, she is of the view that Scotland should follow suit in order to protect victims of this type of crime more effectively.

A link to the English and Welsh legislation can be found below:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2019/9/enacted

In a YouTube video, Ms Mackay provides some background to her proposed Bill and invites members of the public to contribute to the consultation by submitting their views by 21 July 2019.

A link to the Consultation document can be found below:

https://www.parliament.scot/S5MembersBills/20190425_Final_Consultation_document.pdf

Perhaps this is an issue which you feel strongly about and would like to get involved in shaping a new law for Scotland?

You can do this by completing an online survey (link below):

https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/StalkingProtectionBill/

At the moment, there is no Bill – only Ms Mackay’s proposal for one and it remains to be seen whether she will be able to secure the necessary support to take the matter forward i.e. securing the support of 18 MSPs from at least half of the political parties or groups represented in the parliamentary bureau; and provided the Scottish Government does not itself intend to legislate upon the matter.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 13 June 2019

A step closer? Indyref2?

Photo by Seán J Crossan

Can you contain your excitement? Indyref2 (or a second Scottish Independence Referendum) is definitely on the horizon…

… except that it isn’t, but this is the impression given by sections of the Scottish and UK media.

On 28 May 2019, Michael Russell MSP, a senior Scottish Government Minister introduced the Referendums (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish Parliament.

Does this pave the way for more constitutional upheaval (as if Brexit woes aren’t enough at the moment?) across Scotland and the rest of the UK?

Well … actually, no it doesn’t.

Are we on the cusp of a political event approximating the Apocalypse or the Second Coming? Hardly.

From a cursory glance of the Bill and its accompanying documents, it’s very hard to see any mention of Indyref2. In fact, the aims of the Bill are incredibly modest:

This Bill provides a legislative framework for referendums. It provides a power for the Scottish Ministers, by regulations, to provide for the holding of referendums throughout Scotland within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.”[my emphasis]

Critically, even Ken MacIntosh MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament has stated:

In my view, the provisions of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

The Bill is very limited in scope (or timid depending upon your viewpoint). There’s nothing problematic about a future Scottish Government wishing to consult the people of Scotland through the medium of direct democracy (i.e. a referendum) on issues that are firmly within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. Off the top of my head, I can think of several matters which might be suitable for direct democracy e.g. local government, NHS reorganisation, Police and Fire Services reform; education and more thorny, ethical and moral matters such as abortion and euthanasia. 

In terms of the Scotland Acts 1998 and 2016, the Scottish Parliament is confined to legislating upon matters or issues which are deemed to be “devolved”. It is not permitted to legislate upon matters which are deemed to be “reserved” to the Westminster Parliament.

In a previous blog (“Bring it on! (or Indyref2?)” published on 26 April 2019), I emphasised that the last Referendum on the question of Scottish Independence (held on Thursday 18 September 2014) was permitted to go ahead because the then UK Government and Parliament gave their consent. This constitutional arrangement became known as the Edinburgh Agreement of 15 October 2012 and operated under the auspices of Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998.

Currently, it does not seem likely that the UK Government and the next British Prime Minister (who we know will come from the Conservative Westminster Parliamentary Party) are likely to agree to Indyref2 going ahead.

So, what does the Scottish Government hope to achieve?

Be in no doubt: this is about the political long game and the Scottish Government is attempting to shame the UK Government into giving it the right to hold a second referendum.

Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP is calculating that she can portray the refusal of the UK Government to approve another referendum as a deliberate denial of the Scottish people’s fundamental democratic rights. If a UK led Conservative Government becomes even more unpopular, SNP activists and other independence supporters are hoping that it will become politically costly for the Conservatives to continue to oppose a second referendum.

Where will it all end? At the moment, who can really predict the future with any degree of certainty. 

Interesting times indeed!

An infographic (taken from the Scottish Parliament’s website) showing the introduction of the Referendums (Scotland) Bill can be seen below:

A link to the Bill and its accompanying documents can be found below:

https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/111844.aspx

Finally, you can find links to some news articles below which discuss the implications of the Bill:

https://news.sky.com/story/nicola-sturgeon-clashes-with-tory-hopefuls-over-second-independence-referendum-11731033

Indyref2 ‘framework’ bill published at Holyrood

The Scottish government wants to hold a new independence referendum in the second half of 2020.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 3 June 2019

Ban smacking!

Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

John Finnie, a Green Party member of the Scottish Parliament introduced a Bill (Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill) on 6 September 2018.

This Bill would remove the common law defence of reasonable chastisement in Scotland which permits parents and guardians (primarily) to use smacking as a punishment in relation to children in their care.

The main objective of the Bill is expressed in its accompanying Explanatory Notes:

A person charged with assault of a child will no longer be entitled to claim that a use of physical force was justifiable on the basis that it was physical punishment administered in exercise of a parental right (or a right derived from having care or charge of a child). This will give children the same protection from assault as adults.

The Bill is quite a short one – a mere 5 sections – but if passed into law it is sure to have a very significant effect.

Section 1 contains the actual provision which would abolish the defence of reasonable chastisement

Section 2 places a duty on the Scottish Ministers to raise awareness and understanding of the proposed legislation

Section 3 contains the transitional and saving provision which is essentially interim arrangements for repealing the previous legislation  and gives the Scottish Ministers the power to do anything which would bring the provisions of the new law into force

Section 4 deals with the commencement of the proposed law i.e. the day after it receives Royal Assent

Section 5 contains the short title of the Bill.

The Bill will be debated and scrutinised by other MSPs in the Chamber and in Committee and it is quite possible that amendments or changes will follow. With every Bill, there is also the possibility that it might fall at a particular stage of parliamentary proceedings or, even if passed, could be subject to legal challenge e.g. the Scottish Government’s Children and Young Person’s (Scotland) Act 2014 which the UK Supreme Court found fault with on human rights grounds in 2016 (see The Christian Institute and Others v The Lord Advocate [2016] UKSC 51).

A link to the Scottish Parliament’s website where the Bill (as introduced) and its accompanying or supporting documents (which must be submitted) can be found below:

https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/109156.aspx

The Bill must, of course, comply with Scotland’s international human rights obligations as contained in the Scotland and Human Rights Acts (of 1998); and it must be within the “legislative competence” of the Scottish Parliament as per the Scotland Acts of 1998 (which the Presiding Officer, Ken McIntosh MSP has indeed confirmed).

The Bill is also subject to a Financial Memorandum. This can be summed up as a cost analysis to the Scottish Administration:

The Bill does not create a new offence; rather, it removes the defence of reasonable chastisement for the assault of a child. Thus, once the Bill is in force, some prosecutions may proceed as a result of the Bill which may not have proceeded when the defence was available. The Bill may also lead to additional cases of lower level physical punishment being reported, and prosecuted, which are currently not reported due to the defence being available.

Accordingly, the Bill can be expected to have some impact and costs on the criminal justice system.” [author’s emphasis]

Progress so far

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament gave its unanimous backing to the Bill (as as has the Scottish Government).

In support of his Bill, Mr Finnie has emphasised that 54 countries around the world have removed the right from parents and guardians to use physical chastisement as a method of disciplining children. His contention is that, if the Bill is adopted, it would bring Scotland into line with other developed countries.

In order to become a new Scottish law, the Bill, of course, must pass through all (3) legislative stages of Scottish parliamentary procedure.

The Bill is currently at Stage 1 of proceedings. Please see the diagram below taken from the Scottish Parliament’s website which tracks the current progress of the Bill (as of today – Tuesday 28 May 2019):

In a previous Blog (Private Members’ Bills published on 29 April 2019), I drew attention to the fact that backbench members of the Scottish Parliament have a much greater ability to introduce Bills (and ultimately get them onto the Statute Book) when compared to their counterparts sitting in the House of Commons at Westminster. The term backbench or private member is a description which covers any MP or MSP who is piloting a Bill through Parliament which is not a Government Bill.

A link to an article on Mr Finnie’s Bill can be found below:

MSPs to discuss smacking ban bill in parliament debate

Postscript

The Bill has now proceeded to Stage 2 of the legislative process in the Scottish Parliament as the infographic displayed below demonstrates:

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 28 May and 13 June 2019

The Age of Criminal Responsibility

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

In a previous blog (Criminal Responsibility published on 27 February 2019), I commented on the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill which was then proceeding through the Scottish Parliament. At the time of writing my previous blog, this Bill had completed Stage 2 of the legislative process.

The purpose of the Bill was to raise the age in Scotland when people become responsible for acts or omissions which are deemed to be criminal in nature. Scotland had one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe (and the rest of the world). The aim of the Bill was to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 8 years to 12.

The Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 7 May 2019 (completing Stage 3 of the legislative process) and will soon become the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019. So, the age of criminal responsibility is now going to be set at 12 years of age in Scotland.

A link to the Bill as passed by the Scottish Parliament can be found below:

https://www.parliament.scot/S5_Bills/Age%20of%20Criminal%20Responsibility%20(Scotland)%20Bill/SPBill29BS052019.pdf

The Scottish Government has stated that it will review the age of criminal responsibility in 3 years time, with a possible view to raising it.

In evidence given to Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament during the passage of the Bill, it was pointed out that the United Nations had been critical of Scotland’s longstanding position on the age of criminal responsibility and had demanded that it should be raised.

Obviously, children can commit dreadful acts – which if committed by an adult would normally be dealt with by the criminal justice system in Scotland. Murders and other awful offences have been committed by children and such situations will still have to be addressed. We only have to think about the murder of the toddler, James Bolger in 1993 in England. The Scottish Government will argue that the new Act has measures in place to deal with such situations. It will be interesting to see how the law develops in this area.

A link to an article on the BBC website which covered the passing of the Act can be found below:

Age of criminal responsibility raised from eight to 12

MSPs unanimously back law which means primary school-aged children will no longer be arrested.

Postscript

Readers can look at a short video on the BBC News website where the Chairman of Scouts Scotland argues that it is not useful in the longer term to stigmatise some children by describing them criminals:

Scouts chairman: Labelling children criminal ‘impacts life’

Labelling a child a criminals can “impact the rest of their life”, says Scouts Scotland Chair Moray MacDonald.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 and 13 May 2019

Private Member’s Bills

Photo by Chris Flexen on Unsplash

One of the key advantages that individual Members of the Scottish Parliament have over their counterparts at Westminster is the ability to introduce and pass legislation. True, individual Westminster MPs can sponsor a Private Member’s Bill in the hope that it might became an Act of Parliament, but the vast majority of these types of Bills run out of parliamentary time or some other procedural hurdle. I shall return to the problems facing Private Member’s Bills at Westminster later in this blog.

An interesting example of a Member’s Bill being introduced to the Scottish Parliament was reported last week. Monica Lennon, a Labour MSP, introduced the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill on 23 April 2019.

A link to how BBC Scotland covered the story can be found below:

Scotland’s ‘period poverty’ bill officially lodged at Holyrood

The aims and objectives of this Bill are set out in its accompanying Explanatory Notes:

“The aim of the Bill is to ensure that all who menstruate can have reasonably convenient
access to period products, free of charge, as and when they are required.”; and

“The Bill will:

• place a duty on Scottish Ministers to ensure that period products are made available
free of charge on a universal basis;
• require education providers to make period products available free of charge in on-site
toilets; and
• enable Scottish Ministers to place a duty on other specified public service bodies to provide free period products.”

This is a measure which commands popular support across the Chamber at Holyrood and amongst the wider Scottish public, so there is every chance that Ms Lennon’s Bill will eventually become an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

In common with Westminster, a draft law or Bill introduced in the Scottish Parliament must complete various procedures in order to become part of Scots law. It is likely that Ms Lennon’s Bill will undergo some amendments – this is typical for most draft legislation.

All Scottish Parliament Bills – no matter their origin – must be accompanied by Explanatory Notes and a Policy Memorandum detailing the rationale behind the draft legislative proposals and what impact these will have on a range of issues such as human rights and equal opportunities.

The Explanatory Notes will also contain a Financial Memorandum detailing the likely costs of the draft law on the Scottish Government and local authorities. Finally, there must be a statement from the Presiding Officer that the Bill is within the legislative competence of Parliament.

A statement of legislative competence is extremely important because Scottish legislation can be subject to challenge before national courts and European courts. An example of a successful legal challenge to the powers of the Scottish Parliament occurred as a result of the Scotch Whisky Association’s request for a judicial review (preliminary ruling) before the Court of Justice of the European Union in relation to the Alcohol (Minimum Unit Pricing) (Scotland) Act 2012.

A link to Ms Lennon’s Bill and its accompanying documents can be found by clicking on the link below:

https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/111383.aspx

An infographic can be seen below which shows the current progress of the Bill:

The above infographic shows that the Bill is still at the first of the three legislative stages in the Scottish Parliament. Unless and until it successfully completes the other stages, it cannot become an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

Private Member’s Bills at Westminster

Although individual MPs can sponsor Bills in the House of Commons, this method of law making is fraught with difficulties – even if the proposed measure enjoys considerable support.

A recent example of a Private Member’s Bill falling foul of procedural technicalities in the House of Commons was the Voyeurism (Sexual Offences) Bill (introduced on 6 March 2018 by Vera Hobhouse, a Liberal Democrat MP). The text of the Bill can be read by accessing the link below:

https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2017-2019/0174/18174.pdf

This Bill aimed to make ‘upskirting’ a specific criminal offence in England and Wales (it was already a criminal offence in Scotland). This issue had received a lot of public support due to the efforts of Gina Martin, who had been the victim of ‘upskirting’ when attending a music festival in August 2017. When Ms Martin reported the matter to the Police, she was astonished to learn that there was no specific offence covering such behaviour under the criminal law of England and Wales.

A video covering Gina Martin’s campaign can be found below:

Unfortunately, the Bill was derailed by the efforts of Sir Christopher Chope (a Conservative MP sitting for the Christchurch constituency) who used a procedural mechanism to object to the Bill thus ensuring that it could not make any further progress in the House of Commons.

Following a public uproar, Sir Christopher later attempted to justify his intervention in an exclusive interview with the Bournemouth Echo newspaper:

https://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/16296117.christchurch-mp-christopher-chope-i-do-support-upskirting-ban/

The UK Government recognising that such a Bill commanded considerable support both publicly and in Parliament, reintroduced the Bill as an Executive Bill and the measure was finally passed as the Voyeurism (Sexual Offences) Act 2019.

Despite formidable parliamentary obstacles at Westminster, Private Member’s Bills do become law occasionally – the Abortion Act 1967 and the Sexual Offences Act 1967 are often cited as the two most high profile examples of such Bills becoming Acts of the Westminster Parliament. That said, these measures received support from the UK (Labour led) Government of the day, otherwise there would have been little chance of legislative success.

At Westminster, the Executive (the UK Government) historically controls the parliamentary timetable in the House of Commons and the Prime Minister and other ministerial colleagues will prioritise the Bills which they wish to see passed into law. This can mean that there is very little time left over in the parliamentary business timetable for Private Member’s Bills – no matter how worthy they may be.

Since the General Election of May 2017, of course, the UK Conservative led Government has not enjoyed a majority in the House of Commons and has struggled accordingly to pass contentious legislation (Brexit Alert! anyone?).

Conclusion

I remember attending an event at the University of Strathclyde in 2014 when the Right Honourable John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the House of Commons addressed staff, students and invited guests. The audience was given the opportunity to put questions to Mr Bercow. One of the questions which I posed was that, given his reputation as a reforming Speaker of the Commons, could he learn anything from the practices of the Scottish Parliament? In particular, I wanted to know if he favoured greater involvement of individual MPs and parliamentary Committees in the legislative process at Westminster? He was clearly interested in looking at these matters and admitted that Westminster could learn from the practices of the devolved parliaments and assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

It remains the case, however, that it is much more likely that an individual MSP at Holyrood – such as Monica Lennon – has a far greater chance of sponsoring a Bill and seeing it to completion, thus, ensuring meaningful, legislative change. This is something that many of her counterparts at Westminster will simply not be able to achieve.

Postscript

The Independent reports that, as of 26 September 2019, 4 men have been convicted of ‘upskirting’ in England and Wales under the Voyeurism ((Sexual Offences) Act 2019.

A link to the story can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.260919/data/9120536/index.html

The BBC News website also carries a story about the fourth man to be convicted of this offence – a lawyer no less:
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 29 April & 26 September 2019