In implementation of Article 9 para 1.b.ii of the Council of Europe Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, witnesses in civil proceedings in the sheriff courts of Stornoway, Lochmaddy and Portree will henceforth be allowed to give their evidence in Gaelic, provided that two weeks’ notice is given (to enable a translator to be appointed), and that the sheriff does not veto the right on the grounds of inconvenience to the court. The text of the Sheriff Principal’s Act of Court, which came into force on 1 July 2001, is available at 2001 SLT (News) 194. For the medieval and more recent history of language problems in court see H L MacQueen, Linguistic communities in medieval Scots law, in C W Brooks and M Lobban (eds), Communities and Courts in Britain 1150-1900 (Hambledon Press, 1997), and No 116 below.
The recommendations of the working group set up by the Minister of Justice to consider replacements for the soon to be abolished poinding and warrant sale procedure (see Nos 90 and 113 below) were published on 6 July 2001, in a document entitled Striking a Balance: a new approach to debt management. The report calls for the national provision of debt information and advice, the establishment of a statutory debt arrangement scheme, the encouragement of negotiated debt settlements, and for the use of enforcement procedures only against those who can, but will not, pay their debts. A compulsory sale order will be available against persons who can pay but who unreasonably refuse to sell valuable, non-essential goods to meet their obligations. There will now be a period of consultation. Tommy Sheridan MSP has described the report as a fraud and a disgrace, and as the reintroduction of warrant sales by the back door (Scotsman, 7/7/01).
The will of the late Donald Dewar was publicised at the beginning of July 2001. Mr Dewar was revealed as a millionaire at the time of his death, with a shareholding worth nearly £1 million, three houses in Glasgow and Stirling worth in total £550,000, and an art and rare book collection worth another £450,000. In life Mr Dewar had been a political opponent of privatisation, but his share portfolio included substantial holdings of the shares of privatised companies. An old Labour friend of Mr Dewar was quoted as saying Donald had hardly any furnishings in his house and, despite his good intentions, he didn’t spend much on clothes. He often wore freebie ties. (Scotsman, 2/7/01). Mr Dewar bequeathed his estate to his two children.
On 26 June 2001 Lord Macfadyen granted an interim order requiring the removal of Robert Napier (21) from his cell at Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow. Napier had been a remand prisoner since 18 May facing charges of assault, robbery, abduction and attempting to pervert the course of justice. He claimed that conditions were in contravention of article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (no-one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), as he was held in overcrowded conditions, and frequently shared a cell without integral sanitation, i.e. prisoners used pots as toilet facilities (slopping out). It was said that Napier had suffered a worsening of his eczema as well as distress and anxiety as a result of these conditions. The judgment is available on the Scottish courts website as Napier v The Scottish Ministers (http://www.scotcourts.gov.uk). The Scottish Ministers intend to appeal against the ruling, although it is intended to end the practice of slopping out over the next four years at the prisons where it continues in use (as well as Barlinnie, Edinburgh Saughton, Perth, Peterhead, and Polmont young offenders institution). Meantime, on 6 July Napier pleaded guilty to assault and was jailed for six years for his part in a knifepoint hijacking during an ice cream van war in Glasgow.
On 21 June 2001 the Scottish Executive published its report Public Bodies: Proposals for Change. The report proposes the abolition of 52 public bodies, including the Scottish Conveyancing and Executry Services Board (functions to be transferred to the Law Society of Scotland), the Scottish Valuation and Rating Council, the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland, and the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland. Scottish Homes is to be converted into an executive agency. Amongst 61 further bodies recommended for review are the Advisory Committee on Sites of Special Scientific Interest, the Common Services Agency for NHSScotland, the Building Standards Advisory Committee, the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, the Central Advisory Committee on Justices of the Peace for Scotland and the Justices of the Peace Advisory Committees. The list does not include the Scottish Law Commission, thought to have been under threat earlier this year.
On 19 April 2001, an important ceremony was held in the new Oliver Tambo Moot Court Room at the Law Faculty of the University of Cape Town. Lord President Rodger formally handed over a set of The Laws of Scotland: Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia to the Acting Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa, Mr Justice J W Smalberger, for the Library of the Supreme Court of Appeal. The set was donated to the Library by Butterworths, Scotland. The ceremony was attended by a number of present and former South African Judges of Appeal, including D G Scott JA, F D J Brand AJA, and the former Chief Justice, Mr Justice M M Corbett, as well as by judges of the Cape Provincial Division of the High Court. Both Lord Rodger and Mr Justice Smalberger referred to the benefits which would flow from the increasing links between the two legal systems of South Africa and Scotland and to the usefulness of the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia in promoting these links. On behalf of all the Judges of Appeal, Mr Justice Smalberger expressed sincere gratitude to Butterworths for their generosity. After the ceremony Lord Rodger gave an address to UCT Law Faculty entitled Stands Dicey where he did? Recent constitutional developments in the United Kingdom.”