In keeping with the pace of developments in current times, the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 (the Act) was passed in a day by the Scottish Parliament on 1 April 2020. It received Royal Assent on 6 April and came into force on Tuesday 7 April 2020. It can be read in full here.
The specific measures adopted in various areas of the law are examined in more detail in our specialist briefings on our Business Hub.
Emergency legislation procedures
The Act was passed under emergency legislation procedures and adds to the growing framework of legislation emerging to deal with the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, including:
- The Coronavirus Act 2020 passed by the UK Parliament on 25 March (with the consent of the Scottish Parliament); and regulations, such as the
- Public Health etc. (Scotland) Act 2008 (Notifiable Diseases and Notifiable Organisms) Amendment Regulations 2020, which added COVID-19 and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) to the list of notifiable diseases in Scotland.
The gravity of the current situation of the pandemic is reflected in the Policy Memorandum published with the legislation, setting the context for the changes to the law of:
“a severe and sustained threat to human life in Scotland. The Scottish Government is committed to taking all steps necessary to address that threat….public health measures required to control and limit the spread of the outbreak will require a significant adjustment to the lives of those living in Scotland, to business in Scotland, and to the way public services are delivered and regulated.”
Amendments to the law
The Act amends the law in a number of areas across society. Part 1 of the Act introduces a total of 7 schedules to the Act, each of which contains the detail of changes to the law as it relates to matters below. In many cases, the changes are concerned with extending current timescales for procedures, providing for electronic signatures and delivery of documents, enabling relaxation of requirements for certain procedures on a pragmatic basis to allow essential/protective functions to continue and making arrangements to facilitate social distancing:
- Preventing evictions in the private and social rented housing sector for a specified period, subject to possible extensions (Schedule 1)
- Protection for debtors (Schedule 2)
- Children’s hearings and arrangements for looked after children and adults with incapacity (Schedule 3)
- Arrangements in relation to the operation of the justice system (Schedule 4), including:
- to enable social distancing in courts and tribunals
- fiscal fines and cases beginning with an appearance from custody
- extending time limits in criminal proceedings
- trials on indictments
- exceptions to the rule that hearsay evidence is inadmissible
- community orders
- the Parole Board
- release of prisoners
- legal aid
- Alcohol licensing and licensing under the Civil Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (Schedule 5)
- Provisions relating to public bodies, publication of information and public access to information (Schedule 6), including:
- the extension of timescales for dealing with freedom of information requests
- duties in respect of reports and other documents
- local authority meetings
- Other miscellaneous provisions (Schedule 7) relating to:
- social security
- irritancy clauses in commercial leases
- duration of planning permission
- land registration
- the Anatomy Act 1984
- Business Improvement Districts
The Scottish Government has recognised the impact of certain measures contained in the Act across a range of areas, but indicated that it has done assessments of the measures adopted and considered the impact on equal opportunities, human rights, access to information, local government, sustainable development and island communities, amongst other things.
Further changes may be made
The Act gives the Scottish Government a power to make further changes to legislation to address the pandemic by way of subordinate legislation, rather than having to use a further Act of Parliament. Such powers will be used where urgent changes are required to the law, for example, in relation to public service delivery, using a ‘made affirmative’ procedure. This will enable a measure to come into force before a vote takes place – for urgent reasons only – to avoid the risks and difficulties of trying to organise parliamentary meetings during the current pandemic.
These additional powers are however time-limited, albeit with possible extensions. The Act places a duty on the Government to keep these powers under review and to report regularly on their use, with a view ultimately to them no longer being required.
We’re here to help
We’re ready to help business during these unprecedented times. For further information on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 contact Fiona Killen or the relevant expert from our Business Resilience Team.