Scottish government round-up: compellable spouses; the Osler review; and civil court fees

The examination season has meant that some government announcements made in recent weeks have escaped our regular round-up.  Some of the more important from a legal perspective are gathered here.

In 2006 the former Scottish government had issued a consultation paper on whether the rule that spouses could refuse to give evidence against each other should be repealed.  On 5th May Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced that this rule would be repealed.  He stated,

"For too long, spouses have been able to escape justice thanks to laws that mean their other half does not have to give evidence against them. This is not acceptable and has resulted in the past in people marrying their partners prior to trial for example on a charge of abusing their children just to avoid having to give evidence against them. That is why the Scottish Government will act to close this loophole. Changing the law will boost protection for children and prevent couples covering up for each other.  It is the duty and responsibility of every citizen to protect our children and prevent crime. It is entirely unreasonable that where a child is assaulted or a crime committed justice is thwarted due to a marriage. That loophole needs to be closed for justice to be served. Marriage is an important institution and should not be a means of avoiding answering awkward questions in court."

We noted earlier in the year that the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Bill was making its way through Parliament (and Stage 2 begins before the Justice committee of the Scottish Parliament on 10th June 2008).  In the Stage 1 report of the Justice committee concern was expressed,

 "about firstly the considerable administrative and organisational burdens to be placed on this and any future Lord President and secondly its reservations about moving direct authority for the Scottish Court Service away from Scottish Ministers"

moving the Committee to seek

"independent quantifiable evidence about the impact that the Bill’s proposals could have on judicial time, as the Committee is concerned that the impact could be to detract from the judicial role."

The government responded to this request during the Stage 1 debate on the bill and appointed Douglas Osler – a former CHief Inspector of Education in Scotland,

"To reach an independent view on the extent to which new functions proposed for the judiciary in the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Bill will require the commitment of additional judicial time to administrative tasks, and to quantify that commitment of additional judicial time."

The review was due to be completed before the commencement of Stage 2 of the bill before the Justice Committee.

 And on 6th June the Scottish Courts Service laid Fees Orders that would see some increases to court fees.  The orders are: The Court of Session etc. Fees Amendment Order 2008; The High Court of Justiciary Fees Amendment Order 2008; The Sheriff Court Fees Amendment Order 2008; and The Adults with Incapacity (Public Guardian's Fees) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2008.