Concerns about aspects of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Bill have been raised by the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.
Within the report that does recommend Parliament agree to the general principles of the bill, the committee expressed reservations about the administrative and organisational responsibilities being placed on the Lord President. The report also queries the proposal regarding direct authority for the Scottish Court Service being taken away from Scottish Ministers.
Committee Convener Bill Aitken MSP said:
“The Committee was unable to wholeheartedly support the bill’s provisions though it was content with the general principles. There are concerns about the administrative burden that could fall to the Lord President and indeed, given the powers of delegation, to other judges.
“The committee noted and agreed with the Lord President’s view that sitting on the most important cases was his priority. Nevertheless, the committee remains concerned that there has not been an entirely independent assessment of the impact that the bill might have on judicial time and for that reason we seek further discussion around this issue.
“However, the committee welcomes many aspects of the bill. For example, this bill sets out in statute for the first time in Scotland, a guarantee of judicial independence; this is important symbolically and sends out the right message. The committee also welcomes putting the Judicial Appointments Board on a statutory footing which will enable processes and procedures to be developed and built upon.”
The Justice committee has asked the Scottish Government to provide independent quantifiable evidence about the impact the Bill’s proposals could have on judicial time. The committee also remains unconvinced that a sufficient case has been made to remove the Scottish Court Service from the direct authority of Scottish Ministers. Further, the committee unanimously believes that there should be a mandatory requirement for the Judiciary to undertake training.
The Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament on 30 January 2008 and referred to the Justice Committee.