Coronavirus legislation agreed at Parliament
The Scottish Parliament unanimously supported new emergency powers to help protect the public, maintain essential public services and support the economy during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill adjusts the law on evictions to protect people renting their homes in the private and social sector. The Bill delivers new provisions that are designed to ensure businesses, consumers and public services continue to operate effectively and makes necessary adjustments to the criminal justice system to ensure essential services continue.
People and some small businesses that are unable to repay debts due to the outbreak will be able to apply for a six-month ‘breathing space’ period. This will allow them to seek money advice and find long-term solutions to repay debts.
The Bill also allows licensing authorities to extend the deadlines for licence applications that allow the sale and supply of alcohol, and taxi and private hire. This flexibility will help to minimise the risk of losing current licensing rights due during the outbreak.
Below is a useful guide produced by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) outlining some of the key changes for local government.
COSLA CORONAVIRUS BILL BRIEFING
The below provides an overview of the provisions in the Bill as relevant to local authorities:
- Allow local authorities to exclude the public from local authority meetings on public health grounds - if the local authority considers that, if members of the public are present, this would create a real or substantial risk to public health, specifically relating to infection or contamination by coronavirus.
- Allow local authorities and other public bodies to publish documents online, in place of requirements to make them available in hard copy.
- Allow local authorities and public bodies to postpone requirements to publish reports on a particular date or during a particular period (Further clarification is required but the Bill states that the Scottish Ministers or a Scottish public authority may decide to postpone complying with such a duty if they consider that doing so would impede their ability to take action to combat coronavirus. If they decide to do so they must publish a statement to that effect, on or before the date the report is due or as soon as reasonably practical afterwards. This applies to statutory duties, within the competence of the Scottish Parliament to amend)
- Provide that where a full planning permission or planning permission in principle would expire during the relevant period then that permission should not lapse for a period of 12 months from the date on which the provisions come into force, irrespective of that development having not been commenced. The permission would only lapse if development has not commenced before the end of the 12 month period.
- Extend the deadline for public bodies to respond to Freedom of Information requests from 20 days to 60 days.
- Increase the minimum eviction notice period for private and social tenants to up to six months, as long as there are not grounds involving antisocial or criminal behaviour, or if the landlord needs to move into the property themselves.
Coronavirus Bill – child care, protection and justice, and health and social care provisions:
- Requirements as to members of children’s hearings -The Bill relaxes the requirement for three panel members, and for a male panel member to be on each hearing.
- Child protection orders - Following the emergency placement of a child under a CPO, the Bill excises the requirement for a 2nd working day hearing and amends related timescales.
- Maximum period for which a compulsory supervision order has effect - No compulsory supervision order shall lapse if its original end date has past, except where it has not otherwise been reviewed and continued within 6 months of its expiry date.
- Period within which children’s hearing must be heard in certain cases - Following urgent transfers of children into certain placements the Bill amends the time limit for a hearing to be held to 7 days, instead of 3 days.
- Foster and kinship care - The Bill removes the requirement on foster panels to make recommendations about the maximum number of children a particular foster carer may have in their care at any one time.The Bill also enables a local authority to place a child with a kinship carer, in an emergency, for a period not exceeding 5 working days, instead of 3 working days.
- Maximum period for which interim compulsory supervision order or interim variation of compulsory supervision order has effect - The Bill provides that the maximum period for which an interim compulsory supervision order has effect is 44 days rather than 22 days.
- Modification of certain time limits for making and determination of appeals - The Bill extends the time limits for the making, disposal or determination of appeals or the making or lodging of a range of court applications.
- Attendance at children’s hearings - The Bill makes changes to facilitate the remote attendance of people who have right to attend a children’s hearing in person.
- Authentication of children’s hearings documentation - The Bill enables the Reporter or chairing panel member to electronically authenticate documents.
- Secure accommodation -In emergency cases, the Bill extends the maximum time in which a child may be kept in secure accommodation on the authority of the chief social work officer from 72 to 96 hours
- Courts and tribunals - Participants in a criminal or civil proceeding in court to appear via video or audio link from elsewhere, and some procedural hearings could be held entirely over the internet. The legislation also extends the time limits which usually exist for criminal proceedings.
- Early release of prisoners – Powers to release some prisoners early should so many prisoner officers and staff fall ill that it is no longer safe to operate prisons at their
- current population levels.
- Adults with incapacity - Extending guardianships for adults with incapacity, extending the period of existing certificates to authorise medical treatment, and amending provision of services to adults with incapacity to amongst other things expedite discharge from hospital.
- The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 deals with a range of local government licensing functions – from taxis to scrap metal dealers and market operators. Where a local authority doesn’t reach a decision on a licence application within nine months, the 1982 Act provides for the licensing in question to be automatically granted or renewed. This requirement is intended to ensure decisions which have significant implications for people’s livelihoods are made timeously. However, it could also result in licences being issued to people who were not suitable (termed “fit and proper” in the legislation). And it could mean that licences were issued without appropriate conditions. Paragraph 1(2) of Part 1 to Schedule 6 of the Bill extends the maximum time frame for local authorities to reach a decision on licence applications and renewals from nine to 12 months.
Once the Bill has completed its Parliamentary process, The Scottish Government will provide high-level guidance to assist public bodies identify the provisions that are likely to be relevant and action they need to take.
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) also published, in advance of the Bill, a briefing available online at: https://spice-spotlight.scot/2020/03/31/coronavirus-scotland-bill-spice-briefing/#Schedule5