Our task is to recommend reforms to improve, simplify and update the law of Scotland. Society is constantly developing and it is important that the law keeps pace with changes in the way we live and work. Outdated or unnecessarily complex law makes for injustice and inefficiency and leads to the law being out of step with the needs of ordinary people.
We offer the Government independent advice on law reform. This often involves examining whole areas of law and making recommendations to improve them. Public consultation is an essential step in the process to ensure that these recommendations are both workable and acceptable. To learn more about consultation, please go to What we do.
Reform of the law itself must be carried out through the Scottish Parliament or, where appropriate, the UK Parliament. The Scottish Parliament has, for example, passed legislation to implement our recommendations for the abolition of feudal tenure of land and for the protection of the rights and interests of adults who are incapable of managing their own affairs.
The Commission was set up by the Law Commissions Act 1965, along with a similar body for England and Wales. Our funding comes from the Scottish Government Constitution, Law and Courts Directorate.
It is not part of our role to investigate complaints about solicitors or government departments or to give legal advice to individuals. The Law Society of Scotland or a solicitor should be contacted for help in this regard. Alternatively, a Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to offer initial guidance.
The Commission consists of 5 Commissioners appointed by the Scottish Ministers. One of the Commissioners is the Chairman who by convention is a Court of Session judge. The other Commissioners are drawn from those holding judicial office, advocates, solicitors or university law teachers. Commissioners are appointed for a maximum term of 5 years with the possibility of re-appointment. The current Commissioners are:
- Lady Clark of Calton, Chairman (part-time)
- Patrick Layden QC TD
- Professor Hector MacQueen
- Laura Dunlop QC (part-time)
- Dr Andrew Steven
The Commissioners are supported by the Chief Executive of the Commission, and by both legal and non-legal staff. All our permanent staff are seconded from the Scottish Government.
We also engage a small number of law graduates on one year fixed-term contracts to work on particular projects. Details of any posts currently available with us can be found in the Working with us page.
The drafting of Bills attached to our reports is carried out for us by our inhouse Parliamentary Draftsman in conjunction with the Office of the Scottish Parliamentary Counsel in Edinburgh.
Our main work is in reforming the law. We also work on consolidation of statutes and on statute law repeals as well as giving advice and information to Government. We have responsibilities in all areas of Scots law including those reserved to the legislative competence of the UK Parliament at Westminster.
In going about the various types of work that we do, our aim is to play a leading role in developing the law for the people of Scotland so that it just, principled, responsive and easy to understand. For more about our aim and the approach that we adopt in order to achieve it, please go to Our aim and approach.
In choosing areas of work, we are guided by judges, lawyers, government departments, the Scottish Administration, interest groups and the general public who provide information of their experiences in applying a particular area of the law or in obtaining legal remedies.
Law reform projects
A law reform project can be initiated by ourselves (or jointly with the Law Commission for England and Wales and the Northern Ireland Law Commission). Proposals sometimes come from organisations or individuals. Scottish Ministers may also ask us to undertake work on a certain area of the law. Our authority to carry out work is contained in ongoing Programmes of Law Reform approved by the Scottish Ministers or on the basis of a reference from the Scottish Ministers. We are currently working under the authority of our Eighth Programme of Law Reform.
Please see our flow chart for a summary of the steps taken as we go through the process of deciding on recommendations for reform.
Typically, a project begins with a study of the area of the law in question to ascertain its weaknesses. This process may be assisted by a consultant, an advisory group of outside experts or by opinion surveys or other kinds of empirical research. There will usually also be research into how other countries deal with this particular area of the law.
A discussion paper will be prepared to find out what others think of possible solutions. The paper will set out in detail the existing law and its defects, the arguments for and against possible solutions and will invite comments. The discussion paper will be circulated widely as well as being available on our website (where a full list of previous papers can be found) . Our current discussion papers can also be purchased from TSO. Public meetings and seminars may also be held. This consultation process is vital to our work and we welcome comments from interest groups and individuals. Your comments enable us to draw on the experience and expertise of others involved and interested in the particular area of law under review. For further information on how to comment on our papers please go to the Contact us page.
In the light of comments received, solutions will be decided upon which appear to us to offer the best way forward. These conclusions will be contained in a report which we submit to the Scottish Ministers (and also to the UK Government if the area of law in question is a matter for the Westminster Parliament). A draft Bill giving effect to our recommendations will usually be appended to the report. Our reports are available on our website and may also be purchased from TSO.
Once we have reported it is a matter for the Government of the day as to whether our recommendations are implemented. Details of the statutes which have implemented our reports are available on the Implementing Legislation page.
Consolidation of statutes
Consolidation is the re-enactment, in one Act, of all the provisions on one topic of the law scattered throughout various statutes. This does not alter the law but makes it easier to find and use. Consolidation is a vital element of law reform and is a regular part of our work (sometimes undertaken jointly with the Law Commission for England and Wales).
Statute law repeals
This is a "spring-cleaning" of the Statute Book, some of which is also undertaken jointly with the Law Commission for England and Wales. Acts of Parliament which have been superseded by other Acts or which deal with situations which have ceased to exist can be repealed by a simplified Parliamentary procedure.
Giving advice and information to Government
The range of advice given varies greatly. A telephone call or letter may be sufficient in some cases but, in other situations, a lot of research has to be done, resulting in a formal published document.
We produce a twice-yearly newsletter giving details of progress with current projects. If you would like to be added to our newsletter emailing list, please fill out and send us the registration form.
For a personal perspective on the historical development of the Scottish Law Commission, see the text of a lecture delivered on the occasion of the Commission's fortieth anniversary by Lord Hope of Craighead (subsequently published in 2006 Edinburgh Law Review vol 10 pp10-27).
The Commission's task is to recommend reforms to improve, simplify and update the law. In carrying out this task, our aim is to play a leading role in developing the law for the people of Scotland so that it is just, principled, responsive and easy to understand.
In order to achieve our aim, we will continue to adopt the core values of independence, inclusiveness, openness and professionalism in
- working together as a team
- valuing and respecting each individual member of our staff
- maximising efficient and effective use of resources to support our law reform activities
- engaging proactively in discussion of law reform issues with government and professional bodies and with the wider community
- taking account of the views of others
- producing work of the highest quality
- being an active member of the international law reform community, encouraging the exchange of information and ideas.
The Commission’s approach to law reform is also informed by our Equality and Diversity Policy.
The promotion of high standards in public life is essential to ensure and reinforce public confidence in the activities and responsibilities of public bodies. The Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Act 2000 (Codes of Conduct for Members of certain Scottish Public Authorities) Order 2006, which came into force on 1 April 2006, requires members of all Scottish Public Authorities covered by it, including members of the Scottish Law Commission, to comply with an appropriate code of conduct as well as declare a register of interests. We have adopted the following Code of Conduct which is approved by Scottish Ministers and the Standards Commission for Scotland:
Code of Conduct
Register of Commissioners' interests
In common with other public bodies in Scotland, the Commission has a responsibility under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 to further the conservation of biodiversity. Our law reform functions themselves are unlikely to have implications for biodiversity (unless for example a law reform project were reviewing some aspect of environmental law). The duty does, however, impact on aspects of the Commission's operations such as purchasing of supplies, disposal of waste, use of paper, and water and energy resources. We have therefore developed an environmental management policy which will help us to improve our conservation performance in these areas by setting appropriate targets and objectives. After reviewing our performance for the year 2011-12 we have updated the targets and objectives for 2012-13. In monitoring our progress towards meeting these targets we will aim to identify the scope for further improvements.
Under the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 we have, along with other public bodies in Scotland, a duty to publish annual public statements relating to our expenditure in the following areas:
- Public relations
- Overseas travel
- Hospitality and entertainment
- External consultancy
There are further duties to publish certain information relating to the purchasing of goods, the remuneration of employees and the steps we have taken to improve efficiency, effectiveness and economy in our performance as well as the promotion of sustainable growth.