As you will no doubt be aware, the campaign for the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election is now underway. As far as I can see, not all of the manifestos have been launched yet, but I thought I start with those I could find, and add the others later …
In particular, I am interested in what the political parties are promising re: civil justice, civil liberties and civil law more generally. Some edited highlights follow.
Scottish Liberal Democrats
- limiting the use of biometric data in schools, forbidding the fingerprinting of pupils without parental consent and ensuring that any data so collected is stored securely and subsequently destroyed;
- extending the scope of Freedom of Information legislation to include any organisation spending public money;
- cracking down on the use of surveillance by local authorities, and other public bodies;
- ensuring that asylum seekers have access to “good legal advice early on” and throughout the process;
- working with the Scottish Legal Aid Board (and others) to continue to deliver publically funded legal assistance while making “efficiency savings”;
- ensuring that Scotland complies with its international obligations under the Council of Europe Convention Against Trafficking in Human Beings;
- extending marriage to gay couples, and civil partnership to straight couples;
- developing a national disability strategy for Scotland, with measurable outcomes;
- implementing the Gill Review to allow easier access to environmental justice thus ensuring compliance with the Aarhus Convention;
- legislating to give force to the Scottish Veterans’ Charter in all parts of government.
- giving community councils and residents’ groups a formal right to apply to Councils for a fast-track ASBO;
- introducing legislation requiring private landlords to act against anti-social residents;
- supporting the Scottish Legal Aid Board in their drive to ensure that funds are directed to those most in need and that legal aid is administered and delivered as effectively as possible;
- working to ensure communities are better supported by the Scottish legal system, through law centres, the Citizens Advice Bureau and other advice providers;
- supporting the measures proposed in the Damages (Scotland) Bill and the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill, with particular emphasis on protecting public service workers from physical and verbal abuse;
- introducing new laws to ensure that employers can be “effectively held to account for accidents to employees which are a result of negligence by employers”;
- reviewing the legislation relating to Fatal Accident Inquiries.
- reforming legal aid, in particular the scope of civil legal aid;
- encouraging better partnership working between the different agencies to ensure that anti-social behaviour is tackled swiftly and effectively;
- amending the Land Reform Act (Scotland) Act 2003 to remove urban access lanes from its scope;
- legislating to tackle the problem of high hedges where no agreement can be reached between neighbours.
And my thoughts …
- Boy, am I nervous for the future of Civil Legal Aid! Near unanimity on this showing on the need for reform, prioritising resources and saving money. I suspect that means ultimately fewer lawyers for people who can’t afford to pay for them.
- I like the Lib Dems stuff on rolling back the surveillance state (even if the compulsory fingerprinting of pupils isn’t actually a huge issue in Scotland, as it has been in some schools in England) and their concern for meeting our various international treaty obligations. A Scottish disability strategy would be nice too.
- Some interesting ideas from Labour about increasing the use of ASBO’s – although I would want to be clear on what safeguards would be in place to stop community councils etc. from misusing their powers. Similarly, I am not sure what the protection of workers measures would actually involve in terms of changes to the law.
- Very little from the Tories on these points in a slimline manifesto. Their statement of Civil Legal Aid is at best uninformative – but reads to me like another cut in the making. Those high hedge neighbour disputes do need sorting out, though.
Should I declare my membership of the Scottish Liberal Democrats at this point? I probably should, although you may have worked that much out already!
The other parties, soon.