The Queen’s Speech

Recently, I have been discussing with my students the creation of statutory criminal offences i.e. those created by Parliament (whether the U.K. or Scottish Parliaments). In particular, the group discussions have centred around the issue of whether the offence requires the accused to have mens rea (criminal intent or the guilty mind) when carrying out or attempting the actus reus (the wrongful act). Alternatively, the offence may be one of strict liability where mens rea is largely irrelevant. Strict liability offences include non-payment of a TV licence and some road traffic offences.

In relation to strict liability offences, the Crown (the prosecutor) merely has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused committed the actus reus.

These issues were particularly pertinent because the Queen’s Speech had just taken place at Westminster on Tuesday 10 May 2022 (delivered by Prince Charles this year in his mother’s absence). This is a ceremonial occasion in the life of the U.K. Parliament, but it isn’t just for the tourists to come and gawp at. It’s the occasion where the U.K. Government sets out its legislative or law making proposals for the next year.

It used to be a very important occasion for Scotland, but since the Scottish Parliament was set up in 1999 (the Devolution process), it has become less so. Many laws for Scotland are now made in Edinburgh.

That’s not to say that the U.K. Parliament can no longer pass laws for Scotland. That would be giving you a totally false impression: the U.K. or Westminster Parliament remains the supreme law making or legislative authority in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. That is a legal fact.

One of the Bills that was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech this year was the Public Order Bill. This is a very controversial Bill because it aims to target and control the conduct and extent of public protests – particularly protests by environmental groups such as Insulate U.K. and Extinction Rebellion.

The section of the Queen’s Speech referring to the Public Order Bill

A link to the text of this year’s Queen’s Speech can be found below:

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/queens-speech-2022

When I was speaking to the students several days after the Queen’s Speech, I was saying that I would have to go and look at the text of the Public Order Bill in order to establish a number of things:

a) Does it apply to Scotland? The answer would appear to be no as the text of the Bill mentions England and Wales only.

b) Does it create strict liability criminal offences in relation to the practice of ‘locking on’; ‘obstruction etc of major transport works’; and ‘interference with use or operation of key national infrastructure’?

For locking on offences, the intention of the accused still seems to be critical, but regarding obstruction etc of major transport works, there could possibly be an element of strict liability.

Some screenshots from the text of the Public Order Bill can be seen below:

Front page of the Public Order Bill 2022
The proposed offence of locking on. Note the use of the words intend and reckless which are underlined in red

When the language of a Bill or an Act of Parliament uses words such as ‘wilfully’, ‘recklessly’ or ‘intentionally’ in connection with a criminal offence, it’s a fairly safe bet to conclude that the Crown must be able to demonstrate that the accused had the necessary mens rea when the actus reus occurred.

Some of the media commentary around the Public Order Bill was misleading to say the least – particularly in relation to the proposed offence of ‘locking on’. I picked up from several media outlets that this proposal involved the creation of a strict liability offence and, yet, the language of the Bill seems to suggest otherwise.

Section 2 (the proposed offence of being equipped for locking on). Note that the word intention appears in the text.
Section 3 of the Public Order Bill 2022. Note that the text does not contain any words or phrases which suggest that the mens rea of the accused is essential.

That said, Section 3 of the Bill (obstruction etc of major transport works), lacks clear references to the intention of the accused and this might suggest that Parliament intends to create a strict liability offence. Further clarity can, of course, be sought by studying the explanatory notes which accompany the Bill. It is worth pointing out that, even if this is an attempt by Parliament to create a strict liability offence, it could be blocked or amended as the Bill makes it way through the Commons and the Lords.

Sweet v Parsley [1969] UKHL 1

In the above (and often quoted) decision of the House of Lords, Lord Reid (in paragraph 6 of the judgement) made the following observations regarding statutory offences which require mens rea and those which are ‘absolute’ or ‘strict’:

“Our first duty is to consider the words of the Act: if they shew a clear intention to create an absolute offence that is an end of the matter. But such cases are very rare. Sometimes the words of the section which creates a particular offence make it clear that mens rea is required in one form or another. Such cases are quite frequent. But in a very large number of cases there is no clear indication either way. In such cases there has for centuries been a presumption that Parliament did not intend to make criminals of persons who were in no way blameworthy in what they did. That means that whenever a section is silent as to mens rea there is a presumption that, in order to give effect to the will of Parliament, we must read in words appropriate to require mens rea.”

A link to the decision of the House of Lords can be found below:

https://vlex.co.uk/vid/sweet-v-parsley-794063145

Conclusion

The Public Order Bill must now pass through the House of Commons and then the House of Lords before receiving the Royal Assent. Once the formality of the Royal Assent has taken place, the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament i.e. part of the law of the land (for England and Wales in any case).

I am jumping the gun somewhat: the Bill might have a stormy passage through Parliament. As if to prove my point, please see a recent Tweet from Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP:

We’ll just have to wait and see how matters develop.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 May 2022

Burn the witch!

Photo by Kayla Maurais on Unsplash

It’s Halloween today and it seems perfectly natural to be talking about witches and the supernatural. It’s a day of fun for a lot of people – young and old.

That said, to call someone a witch – specifically – a woman, would likely be regarded as an example of misogyny or hatred of women. It would be intended as an insult.

Several hundred years ago, in Scotland, you would not be dressing up as a witch or a warlock (the male counterpart). There was a very real fear of witches and their ability to carry out evil deeds against well doing members of the community.

These sorts of beliefs may seem very strange to modern readers, but Scotland was a very different place some 400 years ago. Even the American colonies were susceptible to claims about witchcraft e.g. the Salem Trials (1692-93) which the playwright, Arthur Miller so marvellously and disturbingly brought to life in The Crucible. In Miller’s play, the authorities cynically use the trials to extend their control over the populace (it was no coincidence that the play was written at the time of the McCarthyite Anti-Communist witch hunts in fifties’ America).

European and American Society was markedly more religious in its outlook. These were pre-Enlightment times after all – before science and reason was in the ascendancy. Everything was either the handiwork of God – or his sworn enemy, the Devil. The evidence of this eternal struggle could be seen all around: a good harvest would be a sign of God’s favour, whereas times of famine would be a portent of evil stalking the land.

The Devil (or Deil in Scotland) was omnipresent and always on the lookout for followers to advance his agenda. This is where witches, warlocks, covens and familiars enter the story.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live

The Book of Exodus, in the Old Testament, was particularly strong on the issue of witchcraft:

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

The above verse – tellingly – comes from the King James Bible (chapter 22 verse 18). I use the word tellingly because King James (VI of Scotland and I of England) had a special interest, not to say primal fear, in and of witches.

There were similar exhortations in other books of the Old Testament (e.g. Leviticus, 19:26 & 20:27 and Deuteronomy, 18:10-11 about the consequences of practising witchcraft.

In 1590, James was convinced that some 200 witches had cast spells against him in an attempt to sink the vessel he was travelling on when he returned from Denmark with his new bride, Anne. The ship had run into a serious storm and the crew and passengers were lucky to make landfall safely. Only divine intervention, so it seemed, had thwarted the malevolent designs of the coven who had set out to ensnare the Royal couple.

https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/history-and-civilisation/2019/10/royal-obsession-black-magic-started-europes-most-brutal-witch

Fears about witchcraft in Scotland did not begin with James. In 1563, the Scottish Parliament had passed the Witchcraft Act which made such practices a capital offence i.e. practitioners of the dark arts could expect the death penalty to be imposed (‘pane of deid’ in the language of the statute). The guilty parties (and there were rather a lot of them) would first be strangled and then burned. For the pious executioners this punishment was merely symbolic because eternal hellfire was the real and awful fate awaiting the newly deceased.

During his reign, James – who fancied himself something of an expert on the subject – would take the campaign against witches to a new level. Rooting out the followers of the Devil would be officially sanctioned by the Church and the State (which were really one and the same thing) according to Claire Mitchell QC. In fact, the King went so far as to record his thoughts on the occult in his Treatise called Daemonologie.

The Witchcraft Act would remain on the statute books in Scotland until 1736, but it would claim thousands of victims.

Pardoning the victims?

Claire Mitchell QC is one of the driving forces behind a campaign to have the existing Scottish Parliament issue a pardon to the estimated 3837 victims of the witchcraft trials. Most of the victims were women. As Claire explained, during an interview with Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 last week, we have an idea of the numbers of victims and their profiles because of the existence of Parish Records and the records of witchcraft trials from the period.

Claire became aware of this gruesome period in Scottish history when:

Doing research in the Advocates Library on ‘Bloody Mackenzie’, a Lord Advocate during the Witchcraft Act, I read a quote from a poor woman who had been convicted of witchcraft. She was so confused that she asked, ‘Can you be a witch and not know it?’ I was very angry and decided to find out more about Scotland’s witches.

For more information about Claire Mitchell’s campaign, click on the links below:

https://scottishlegal.com/article/claire-mitchell-qc-seeks-posthumous-justice-for-scotland-s-witches

https://www.witchesofscotland.com

The issuing of general pardons by Parliament to redress historical miscarriages of justice are not a new development. Just this month, the Scottish Government published a Bill which aims to pardon people who took part in the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike in relation to three specific criminal offences.

For more information about this issue, please click on the link below:

https://www.lawscot.org.uk/news-and-events/legal-news/miners-strike-pardons-bill-brought-to-holyrood/

In 2018, the Scottish Parliament passed the Historical Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act which issued pardons to all those men who had been convicted of the offence of same sex activity. Homosexual activity – even between consenting male partners – was unlawful in Scotland until 1981.

Opposition to the pardons

Despite the above precedents, some legal commentators are not as enthusiastic about a general pardon being issued to the victims of the Witchcraft Act. Professor Douglas J. Cusine was firmly of the view that such gestures were using up valuable parliamentary time which could be concentrated on more pressing issues. In some respects, the pardons for gay men and the proposed ones for the miners are more logical and can be more easily justified in that many of the victims are still alive – or at least the injustices took place within living memory.

A link to a letter submitted to Scottish Legal News by Professor Cusine can be found below:

https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/letter-witch-pardon-risks-making-a-mockery-of-holyrood

That said, at time of greater awareness of violence against women and general misogyny, perhaps Professor Cusine is missing a trick (no pun intended).

For some recent stories about generalised misogyny, please click on the links below:

http://news.sky.com/story/johnny-depp-libel-trial-star-called-amber-heard-a-witch-in-text-messages-court-hears-12024026

http://news.sky.com/story/nhs-scandals-review-women-verbally-abused-by-clinicians-after-raising-concerns-12024212

Conclusion

We live in very different times when someone who says that they are a practitioner of witchcraft or the occult might well cause some curiosity on the part of his/her listeners.

Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 may, arguably, now protect such an individual on the basis of their philosophical beliefs. We also have a far greater respect for a person’s private and family life in terms of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the 16th Century, individuals who seemed to be a bit left field or eccentric would not have appeared harmless or endearing to most members of the community. The stereotypical old woman who lived alone in the woods and who was a healer, could very quickly become the subject of communal hostility. It might even cost her her life.

For information about a modern witch or a pagan practitioner, please click on the link below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-58852476

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 31 October 2021

Sex or gender?

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

Sex or gender: which term do you prefer? Can they be used inter-changeably?

These questions have now come into sharp focus as a result of an amendment to the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill.

Our understanding of the terms “sex” and “gender” may now have to evolve as a result of the debate surrounding aspects of the Bill, but before we discuss this Bill it’s worth looking at the current legal position surrounding gender recognition issues.

The Equality Act 2010

Section 11(1) of the Equality Act 2010 defines a person’s “sex” in the following terms:

In relation to the protected characteristic of sex — a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a man or to a woman

In other words, current UK equality law means that your sex is determined at birth when you will be categorised as ‘Male’ or ‘Female’ and this will be entered on your birth certificate. We, therefore, do not have a choice about our sex when we are born. It is a matter of biology.

What about a person’s gender? Section 7(1) of the Equality Act 2010 provides us with guidance on this matter:

A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004

In April 2005, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force. This Act, which received the Royal Assent on 1 July 2004, currently provides people who have undergone gender reassignment procedures with legal recognition in relation to their newly acquired gender identity. The legislation applies across the United Kingdom and was passed by the Westminster Parliament.

Legal recognition of a person’s decision to reassign the sex or gender they have had from birth will follow from the issuing of a full gender recognition certificate by a Gender Recognition Panel. The individual applying for such a certificate must be able to satisfy certain criteria – the most important criterion will centre around the submission of medical evidence of physiological changes by the applicant.

The Scottish Government was intending to reform the 2004 Act, but in the teeth of strong opposition within the Scottish National Party, such proposals have been dropped for the time being.

Self-identification

Under the Scottish Government’s proposals, an individual would have been permitted effectively to self-identify as a person of the opposite sex without having to undergo invasive medical procedures and provide the evidence of this fact in order to obtain recognition from the Panel.

This meant that an individual wishing to undergo gender reassignment in Scotland would have to have met the following criteria:

  • A statutory declaration to the effect that they have decided to change gender or sex;
  • The declaration will contain a statement that the individual has been living as a man or a woman for at a minimum of 3 months;
  • The individual will have to undertake a compulsory or mandatory period of 3 months to reflect on the decision to undergo gender reassignment (no gender recognition certificate will be issued until this period has been completed).

Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill

This Bill has proved to be another flashpoint in the often fierce debate over gender recognition.

The Bill, which passed Stage 3 in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 10 December 2020, has reignited the debate about the terms “sex” and “gender” and their use in legislation.

The Bill passes Stage 3 in the Scottish Parliament

The purpose of the Bill is set out below:

“… to improve the experience, in relation to forensic medical services, of people who have been affected by sexual crime. It does this by providing a clear statutory duty for health boards to provide forensic medical examinations to victims and to ensure that an individual’s healthcare needs are addressed in a holistic way in the context of any such examination (or where such an examination is not proceeded with). As well as placing a duty on health boards to provide forensic medical examinations when a victim is referred for such an examination by the police, the Bill allows victims to “self-refer”. Self-referral means that a victim can request a forensic medical examination without having reported an incident to the police. The Bill provides a statutory framework for the retention by health boards of samples obtained during a forensic medical examination, which may support any future criminal investigation or prosecution. In self-referral cases, this allows the victim time to decide whether to make a police report.

A controversial amendment?

At first glance, no one could possibly object to the aims of the Bill, but Johann Lamont MSP, a former leader of the Scottish Labour Party, saw an opportunity to introduce an amendment to the Bill.

Such a development is not an unusual practice for parliamentarians to introduce amendments to Bills proceeding through Parliament. The introduction of amendments to Bills often permit reform to earlier pieces of legislation. In this case, the Lamont amendment was directed towards changing the wording of Section 9(2) of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014.

As things currently stand, Section 9(2) of the 2014 Act states that:

Before a medical examination of the person in relation to the complaint is carried out by a registered medical practitioner in pursuance of section 31 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, the constable must give the person an opportunity to request that any such medical examination be carried out by a registered medical practitioner of a gender specified by the person.

This could mean, under current law, that a victim of a sexual assault e.g. a biological or cis woman might have to undergo an examination by a medical professional who is a transgender female.

The Lamont amendment (which has now been accepted overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament) will ensure that the word “gender” will be replaced with the word “sex”.

Johann Lamont’s amendment will remove an anomaly in the law which currently permits a transgender person who is a medical professional to examine a victim of a sexual assault.

Further controversy

When one flashpoint is resolved, another disagreement about sex and gender is never far away in Scotland.

An organisation called forwomen.scot is raising a legal action in the Court of Session in Edinburgh for the express purpose of challenging the Scottish Government’s attempt to redefine the word ‘woman’ (see below):

“… We are challenging the Scottish Ministers over the redefinition of “woman” in the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018 which we believe is outside the legislative competency of the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998 and in contravention of the Scottish Ministers’ duties under equality legislation… The new definition includes some men, while, remarkably, excluding some women. This cannot be allowed to stand… The Equality Act 2010 states that a woman is “a female of any age” and maintaining this definition is key to maintaining women’s rights and protections in law…”

forwomen.scot describes rationale on its website in the following terms:

– sex is immutable and is a protected characteristic;
– women are entitled to privacy, dignity, safety and fairness;
– women’s rights should be strengthened.

https://forwomen.scot

All quiet on the Western Front? Hardly … expect this issue to run and run.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 4 February 2021

Gender recognition reform postponed

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The Coronavirus continues to create chaos – legally speaking.

The latest casualty is the Scottish Government’s promised review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. This exercise will now be postponed for the foreseeable future.

On 20 June 2019, the Scottish Government stated that, following a consultation in 2018, it would be bringing forward a Gender Recognition Bill in order to reform the current Gender Recognition Act 2004.

This exercise was always dogged by a lack of clarity on the Government’s part. Shirley-Anne Sommerville MSP, the Government Minister who had responsibility for this issue had publicly admitted that there was still a need to build a “maximum consensus” before things become clearer. Code for sorting out divisions over the issue within the ranks of the Scottish National Party.

A link to information about the proposed Bill can be found below:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/review-of-gender-recognition-act-2004/

The Gender Recognition Act 2004

In April 2005, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force. This Act, which received the Royal Assent on 1 July 2004, currently provides people who have undergone gender reassignment procedures with legal recognition in relation to their newly acquired gender identity. The legislation applies across the United Kingdom and was passed by the Westminster Parliament.

Legal recognition of a person’s decision to reassign the sex or gender they have had from birth will follow from the issuing of a full gender recognition certificate by a Gender Recognition Panel. The individual applying for such a certificate must be able to satisfy certain criteria – the most important criterion will centre around the submission of medical evidence of physiological changes by the applicant.

Since the introduction of the Act, it has long been the case, therefore, that it will amount be unlawful discrimination to treat a person less favourably because s/he has undergone a a process of gender reassignment. The Equality Act 2010, of course, also bolsters legal protection for transgender people.

The Scottish Government’s proposed Gender Recognition Bill

The proposed Bill was controversial because some Scottish National Party MSPs and MPs (e.g. Joanna Cherry QC, Ash Denham, Kate Forbes and Lindsay Martin) are concerned about its main objective: that an individual who wishes to undergo gender reassignment will no longer have to provide medical evidence to the Gender Recognition Panel. The Panel currently determines the gender or sex of individuals who wish to undergo reassignment by issuing them with a certificate:

https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/joanna-cherry-qc-signs-letter-opposing-rush-to-reform-gender-law

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-48037152

Under the Scottish Government’s proposals, an individual could effectively self-identify as a person of the opposite sex without having to undergo invasive medical procedures and provide the evidence of this fact in order to obtain recognition from the Panel.

Under the proposed legislation, an individual wishing to undergo gender reassignment would have to have met the following criteria:

  • A statutory declaration to the effect that they have decided to change gender or sex;
  • The declaration will contain a statement that the individual has been living as a man or a woman for at a minimum of 3 months;
  • The individual will have to undertake a compulsory or mandatory period of 3 months to reflect on the decision to undergo gender reassignment (no gender recognition certificate will be issued until this period has been completed).

Two academics at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Kath Murray and Lucy Hunter Blackburn have also been extremely critical about the Scottish Government’s approach to transgender rights generally.

A link to an article in The Holyrood Magazine discussing the research conducted by the two academics can be found below:

https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/scottish-trans-policy-detrimental-women-and-girls

For the time being all of the above is going to be purely academic.

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/07/17/whos-the-daddy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/09/26/im-not-your-daddy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/25/gender-neutral/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/18/safe-spaces/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/21/say-what-you-want/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/16/say-what-you-want-continued/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 1 April 2020

What a difference a day makes …

Photo by Jim Wilson on Unsplash

Only yesterday, I was discussing provisions of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill which would have led to the suspension of trial by jury for indictable offences in Scotland.

It seems that the Scottish Government has had second thoughts about this issue and has decided not to proceed with these proposals – although Humza Yousaf MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice has said that the Government will revisit the matter sometime in the next month.

This is the essential problem with emergency legislation – the unexpected consequences which arise in such situations due to the fact that there is a lack of effective oversight or supervision.

Were the Government’s proposals a sinister attempt to undermine trial by jury or were they simply a necessary evil determined by social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 crisis?

Whatever reason you prefer, the Scottish Government has found itself at the centre of a backlash from the usual suspects – the Scottish Criminal Bar Association – and from its own supporters e.g. Joanna Cherry QC MP (see below):

This has led to a situation which no Government (irrespective of its political colours) likes to be in: having to make an embarrassing U-turn.

In normal times, of course, the Government would have circulated its proposals in a discussion paper well in advance of any draft legislation being published. In this way, various interested parties, such as the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland, could have made their views known and, for the Government, this allows a useful measurement of the temperature to be taken.

The Law Society of Scotland, which represents solicitors, bemoaned the lack of consultation by the Scottish Government (see below):

This is why emergency legislation should always contain a clause or a provision which allows it to be regularly reviewed by Parliament. In this way, very simple questions can be posed:

  • Is the law working properly?
  • Is it still necessary?

Please find below a link to the story about this development on the BBC website:

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-52111412

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/31/trial-without-jury/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/23/tholing-his-assize-alex-salmond-former-scottish-first-minister-acquitted-of-13-charges-of-sexual-offences-some-reflections-on-criminal-prosecutions-in-scotland-the-burden-of-proof-required-to-secu

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/15/oh-brother/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/02/consent/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/25/the-jury/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/15/kaboom/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 1 April 2020

Trial without jury?

Screen capture by Seán J Crossan

I seem to be on a theme today due to COVID-19.

The latest legal development is the Scottish Government’s attempt to deal with the crisis by passing an emergency Bill through the Scottish Parliament in one day. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill undoubtedly contains welcome measures e.g. protection for tenants against eviction by their landlords throughout the duration of the crisis.

The relevant provisions of the Bill are contained in Section 11(1) and (4) respectively and are as follows:

“The Scottish Ministers may by regulations provide that trials on indictment are to be conducted by the court sitting without a jury.”

This would, in effect, create a situation where a Sheriff or a Lord Commissioner of Justiciary in a solemn trial was both Master of the Law and Master of fact.

Not everyone is welcoming the Bill in its entirety: the Scottish Criminal Bar Association has been extremely critical of proposals which would, in particular, permit the temporary abolition of trial by jury (solemn trials).

Prominent members of the Scottish National Party, such as Joanna Cherry QC MP, have stated their extremely strong opposition to the proposals (see Tweet below):

Ronnie Renucci QC, Chair of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, issued the following statement attacking the Bill’s provisions in relation to jury trials:

The proposals in this bill include attacks on principles that have been built over 600 years and are at the very cornerstone of Scotland’s criminal justice system and democratic tradition. … Any changes, however temporary, should not erode important principles of our legal system which would have the effect of undermining or ignoring the citizen’s rights to justice. They should not at a stroke remove the fundamental principle of the right of those citizens charged with serious offences to a trial by a jury of their peers within a reasonable time. … The SCBA believes that these draconian measures seeking to bring about seismic changes to our system of justice are premature, disproportionate and ill-advised. They are at best a knee-jerk reaction to an as yet unquantified problem instigated by panic or at worst, something far more sinister.”

As Mr Renucci also points out in his statement, juries have been in existence in Scotland since the reign of King Alexander II (1214-49). Even during the Second World War, the practice of trial by jury continued – albeit restricted to 7 jurors as opposed to the usual number of 15.

I should, of course, point out that the vast majority of criminal trials (95%) in Scotland are conducted in the lower criminal courts – the Justice of the Peace and Sheriff Courts – under summary procedure. In England and Wales, the figures are similar. Yet, the emotional attachment to the right of trial by jury remains very strong in both jurisdictions.

We should not, however, ignore or downplay the value of solemn trials in that they permit someone who is accused of serious criminal offences (e.g. former Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond) to be tried by a jury of his/her peers. A

There are unhappy precedents for restricting the right to trial by jury.

In Northern Ireland, during the period known euphemistically as ‘The Troubles‘, the Diplock Courts were established under the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1973. This legislation abolished the right to trial by jury for terrorism related offences. The rationale behind this development was to curb juror intimidation by paramilitary organisations such as the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Defence Association. These courts, where one judge presided, were highly controversial. They were only abolished comparatively recently as a result of the introduction of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007.

During the first and second terms of the Blair Government (1997-2001 and 2001-2005 respectively), attempts were made to curtail the right to trial by jury in England and Wales. This would have applied to offences triable either way i.e. they could be tried under summary procedure or on indictment. In such situations, it is the choice of the accused (the defendant) to decide which sort of trial they should face – trial by magistrates or trial by jury. The Blair Government’s proposals were not welcomed and eventually sank beneath the waves of protest from a number of Mr Blair’s own MPs, members of the House of Lords, the Law Society and the Bar Council (to name but a few opponents).

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2000/jan/21/jurytrials.law2

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-rebels-to-ambush-blair-over-trial-by-jury-105088.html

Conclusion

Some 20 years ago, when Prime Minister Blair’s Government proposed restrictions on the right to trial by jury, the words of Lord Devlin, a former Law Lord, were often quoted. Lord Devlin’s remarks are worth repeating in the current context:

“…trial by jury is more than an instrument of Justice and more than one wheel of the constitution: it is the lamp that shows that freedom lives.”

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/23/tholing-his-assize-alex-salmond-former-scottish-first-minister-acquitted-of-13-charges-of-sexual-offences-some-reflections-on-criminal-prosecutions-in-scotland-the-burden-of-proof-required-to-secu

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/15/oh-brother/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/02/consent/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/25/the-jury/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/15/kaboom/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 31 March 2020

Making (period) poverty history?

Photo by The Female Company on Unsplash

On 23 April 2019, Monica Lennon, a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Labour Party introduced the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill (a draft law). There is nothing particularly unusual about this. After all, it is the job of our parliamentarians to make laws on behalf of the people of Scotland.

The purpose of this Bill captured the imagination of many and gained quite a bit of media attention due to its objective: the eradication of one of the sources of poverty endured by many women on low incomes in Scotland. In short, Ms Lennon’s Bill would ensure that women were given free access to period products.

Although the Bill’s objective was universally praised, the Scottish Government expressed doubts about its financial sustainability – and Ms Lennon, after all, is an opposition and backbench member of Parliament. Politics is politics after all.

Now, after some time in the equivalent of the parliamentary doldrums, the Bill has been given a new lease of life having been approved (the main principles of the proposal in any case) by a majority of Ms Lennon’s Holyrood colleagues.

That is not to say that the Bill will be passed as it was originally introduced to Parliament last April. It is more than likely that it will be subject to intense scrutiny by parliamentary committee and a range of amendments will be proposed.

What the shape of any eventual law will look like is anyone’s guess at this stage, but all credit to Ms Lennon who has persisted in pushing forward this important issue and keeping it firmly in the spotlight.

This is nothing new: most Bills will be subject to amendments as they undergo the scrutiny of the legislature. This is part and parcel of parliamentary life; compromises will have to be made in order that a Bill can be placed on the statute books i.e. can move beyond a mere proposal to something more concrete and lasting – an Act of Parliament.

An info graphic showing the current progress of the Bill (now at Stage 2) can be seen below:

Links to articles on the BBC website about the Bill can be found below:

Period poverty: Are Scots going to get period products for free?

MSPs have given their initial backing to plans to tackle period poverty by making sanitary products available to all free of charge.

Period poverty: MSPs back plans for free sanitary products

MSPs back the general principles of Monica Lennon’s bill but warn changes must be made before it becomes law.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/20/criminal-evidence-vulnerable-witnesses/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/11/29/from-8-to-12/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/smacking-banned/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/28/ban-smacking/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/04/more-bills/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/29/private-members-bills/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/13/stalkers-beware/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 26 February 2020

Civil partner? I do!

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

As of today (31 December 2019), heterosexual couples in England and Wales will be able to enter civil partnerships as an alternative to marriage.

This change does not yet extend to Scotland: the Scottish Government has introduced its own Bill to introduce civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.

An info graphic showing the current progress of this Bill in the Scottish Parliament (Stage 1) can be seen below:

When the Labour Government of Prime Minister Tony Blair originally introduced civil partnerships across the UK (as a result of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004) such legal unions were open to gay and lesbian couples only.

It was the first time in the history of Scots and English family law that gay and lesbian couples were entitled to enter a legally recognised relationship.

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.

The case which started the ball rolling was Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education [2016] EWHC 128 (Admin).

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 (see Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education [2017] EWCA Civ 81).

The couple were then given leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court.

On 27 June 2018, the Supreme 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.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the UK Government of former Prime Minister Theresa May initiated steps to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in respect of the law for England and Wales.

A link to an article about the change to the law in England and Wales on the Sky News website can be found below:

Civil partnerships: First mixed-sex couples celebrate union http://news.sky.com/story/civil-partnerships-first-mixed-sex-couples-celebrate-union-11898759

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/a-very-civil-partnership/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/20/love-and-marriage/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/08/the-gay-cake-row/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 31 December 2019

A pile of mince or a dog’s dinner?

Photo by Ryan Christodoulou on Unsplash

The Scottish Parliament has been making laws for the people of Scotland for two decades now and quite an impressive output of legislation it is too.

Recently, however, I found myself asking the questions: how frequently and to what effect does the Scottish Parliament review its legislative work. I suppose the question that I’m really asking is whether our elected representatives give serious thought to the efficacy of the laws that they have passed in our name?

In political science, the mismatch between legislative intent and the effectiveness of laws or policies is often referred to as the implementation gap i.e. where the political rhetoric and reality fail to meet.

Two stories caught my eye these last 18 months or so. The first involved the repeal of the (much maligned) Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications etc (Scotland) Act 2012. This law was passed with the intention of combating bigotry and sectarianism which is/was often expressed through the medium of football e.g. Glasgow Rangers v Glasgow Celtic; Heart of Midlothian v Hibernian; and Dundee v Dundee United.

The intention behind the legislation may very well have been a noble one, but it proved almost unworkable in practice. In 2013, Sheriff Richard Davidson (sitting at Dundee Sheriff Court) called the legislation “mince” (for our readers outside Scotland, this isn’t a legal term but rather one of derision). Unsurprisingly, the accused, one Dion McLeish was acquitted of all charges. Following Sheriff Davidson’s caustic remark, it really was all the way downhill for the Act. It was only a matter of time before the law was repealed (it was on on 19 April 2018 by a temporary coalition of Conservative, Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament). Much to the chagrin of the minority Scottish National Party led Government, the writing really was on the wall for this particular piece of legislation.

The Scottish Nationalists had always been accused of the worst type of virtue signalling by the opposition parties at Holyrood i.e. the practice of making superficial or grand gestures which are totally lacking in substance.

Does Scotland have a problem with bigotry and sectarianism? Almost certainly; but how do you tackle it effectively? That is the $64,000 question.

The second story involved the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. This Act was introduced to promote greater responsibility for the control of dogs which could pose a danger to the public. Was this piece of legislation working effectively? Unfortunately not concluded the Scottish Parliament’s post legislative committee which stated there was still an “unacceptably high prevalence of dog attacks”.

Again, how do you address the issue effectively and ensure public safety? Good question and one which I’m only too happy to leave the politicians to sort out.

Links to the story about the criticism of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 can be found on the BBC website can be found below:

Dangerous dogs law ‘not fit for purpose’, say MSPs

New laws were introduced in 2010 but attacks by dogs are still “unacceptably high”, MSPs hear.

My son was scarred for life by dangerous dog

A mother from Bishopton has spoken out as MSPs hear attacks by dogs are still “unacceptably high”.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 26 December 2019

Law or high politics?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Both is the answer to the question posed by the above Blog title.

And to what does the question refer? The British General Election results of Thursday 12 December 2019.

But before I venture some thoughts about what last Thursday’s results might mean for IndyRef2, I’d like to go back to the UK General Election of 1992. It may be instructive to remember the words of Jim Sillars, a then prominent Scottish Nationalist politician and Westminster Parliamentarian:

We have not yet resolved the paradox of when Scotland votes for the Labour Party and England votes for the Tories [the Conservative Party].’

Returning to the events of the General Election just past, Sillars’ remarks can be easily updated to read what happens when Scotland votes for the Scottish Nationalist Party, but England votes for the Conservatives?

Like all good questions, there is no easy answer to it. Yes, Boris Johnson MP is now the Prime Minister of a Conservative Party majority UK Government. Brexit will now almost get done (excuse the poor English – not mine).

And yet, there may be trouble ahead.

As predicted, the UK Government has restated its opposition to Indyref2.

Yesterday, during Sophy Ridge’s Show on Sky News, Michael Gove MP, a senior UK Cabinet Minister, rejected the idea of a second independence referendum (please see the link below):

http://news.sky.com/story/michael-gove-absolutely-rules-out-second-scottish-independence-referendum-11887189

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland quickly responded by stating that Scotland ‘cannot be imprisoned’ within the UK:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/election-2019-50801743/nicola-sturgeon-scotland-cannot-be-imprisoned-in-uk

So this is where law and high politics collide.

Firstly, what’s the legal position?

The last Referendum on the question of Scottish Independence (held on Thursday 18 September 2014) too place because the then UK Government and Parliament gave their consent. This constitutional arrangement became known as the Edinburgh (St Andrew’s) Agreement of 15 October 2012 and operated under the auspices of Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998.

Secondly, what’s the political position and where does the Scottish Government go from here?

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 is pointing to her democratic mandate from the Scottish electorate after the SNP increased its share of Westminster parliamentary seats from 35 to 48. Any refusal on part the UK Government to approve another referendum can and will be portrayed as a deliberate denial of the Scottish people’s fundamental democratic rights.

I often have to remind my students that when we elect a Parliament, we are appointing legislators (law makers) – as well as politicians.

Mr Johnson is clearly political master of all he surveys …

… for now at least.

Both Governments are clearly playing to their respective constituencies and it will be interesting to see if a greater impetus for Scottish independence begins to build north of the border.

The next Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2021 will provide some idea of the strength (or weakness) of the pro-independence cause.

Currently, despite the SNP’s electoral successes last Thursday night, Nicola Sturgeon and her Government certainly have the weaker hand, but in a political poker game of high stakes (the survival or dissolution of the 300 year old union between Scotland and England), high politics may well yet overcome dry, legal arguments.

As the German statesman, Otto von Bismarck noted:

Politics is the art of the possible.’

The old statesman also remarked:

Politics is not a science, as the professors are apt to suppose. It is an art.’

Who will be the more artful politician: Nicola Sturgeon or Boris Johnson? Time will tell.

Related Blog articles:

A step closer? Indyref2?

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/02/a-step-closer-indyref2/

Bring it on! (or Indeyref2?)

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/26/bring-it-on-or-indyref2/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 16 December 2019