Scottish Government introduces new Coronavirus Bill

Date: 15th May 2020
Category: Civil Rights and Freedoms, Disability, Basic Health and Welfare

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The new Bill adds to the changes made by earlier legislation which passed in April 2020. It introduces changes to some of the duties on public services, support for carers and how the justice system operates.

In particular, the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill sets out:

  • Provisions allowing student tenants to terminate their leases early. It allows those currently tied into student accommodation contracts to give 7 days’ notice.
  • A Coronavirus Carer’s Allowance Supplement of £230.10. This is for carers aged 16 and over who were eligible and in receipt of Carers Allowance on 13th April 2020.
  • Changes to the justice system, including extension of certain time limits for criminal proceedings (e.g. removal of 3-week time limit for remand), and allowing Prison Custody Officers to carry out duties within police stations.

Scottish Government conducted a Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) on the Bill, accessible here, yet the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland raised concerns that some provisions conflicted with children’s human rights. Concerns raised ahead of Stage 2 included:

  • Carers Allowance: whilst welcoming the supplement to the Carers Allowance, the Commissioner questioned why this has not also been extended to the Young Carer Grant. The result is that some young carers will fall through the gaps at a time when many will have seen an increase in their caring responsibilities due to lockdown. Scottish Government’s CRWIA noted that the current eligibility criteria for Carers Allowance may impact negatively on some young carers due to the requirement of providing at least 35 hours of care and the restriction on study hours. The CRWIA said that Scottish Government has been promoting the Young Carer Grant in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and has seen a "modest" increase in applications. 
  • Children deprived of their liberty: the Commissioner raised concerns about the removal of the three-week time limit for remand, saying that this constituted a disproportionate interference with children’s right to liberty.
  • Criminalisation of 16/17 year olds: the Commissioner raised concerns that the legislation continues to define a child in Scotland as under 16, conflicting with the UNCRC definition that a child is under 18. This means 16- and 17-year-olds in Scotland are at risk of criminalisation for breaching lockdown restrictions, and excluded from protections that apply to their peers in other parts of the UK.

On 19th May, the COVID-19 Committee considered amendments at Stage 2. An amendment by Ross Greer MSP was accepted, ensuring 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer issued with Fixed Penalty Notices for breaching lockdown rules. Alison Johnstone MSP tabled an amendment relating to support for young carers but this was not pressed.