Tag Archives: Crofting Law Group

Crofting Law Group Conference 2017

Crofting Law Group Conference 2017

The Crofting Law Group are holding their annual conference this year at Lews Castle, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis on 9th June 2017.

Chaired by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw, Bt. QC, the conference will look at the Scottish Government’s proposals for Crofting Law Reform, where things are at and what happens next. Michael O’Neill from the Crofting Bill Team of the Scottish Government will guide delegates through that. There will be views from Patrick Krause Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation.

Bill Barron, Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission will provide a Crofting Commission Update.

The Conference will look at the question of Common Grazings, what went wrong last year (a recurring theme on this blog!) and what does the future hold with reference to the Crofting Commission’s proposed new Common Grazing Regulations Template.  There will be contributions and discussion on this topic from the Crofting Commission’s Solicitor, David Findlay, Solicitor Brian Inkster, Crofters and Landlords.  Relevant excerpts of the film ‘Grazing on the Edge’ will be shown and introduced by Janette Sutherland of the Scottish Agricultural College.

Duncan MacPhee, Solicitor, will look at Mortgages for Croft Houses.

There will also be the usual case law update provided this year by Robert Sutherland, Advocate.

Representatives from Registers of Scotland will be on hand to answer any queries concerning the Crofting Register.

For full details and to book your place see Crofting Law Conference 2017 on the Crofting Law Group website.

The Crofting Law A-Team

The Crofting Law A-Team

Martin Minton, Angus Mackay, Brian Inkster, Evonne Morrison and Derek Flyn

Inksters recently strengthened their crofting law team by the addition of three new team members.

Derek Flyn joins Inksters as a crofting law consultant. Derek is one of the best known and most highly respected crofting law experts in Scotland. He co-wrote the first book on crofting law in 1990 and is currently writing a new up-to-date book on crofting law with Keith Graham. He was in recent years the Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation and continues to be their Parliamentary Spokesman.

Derek, together with Keith Graham, produced the Crofting Law Sump Report which highlighted to the Scottish Government in 2014 all of the problem issues requiring to be addressed in crofting law. This is likely to lead to new crofting law legislation during the term of the new Scottish Government.

Derek lives in Beauly and has strong connections with the Isle of Skye where his wife comes from and where he once worked.

Derek will be assisting the crofting law practitioners at Inksters and providing them with specialist advice on complex crofting law matters.

Angus Mackay also joins Inksters. He is a legal consultant with a specialist interest in Community Empowerment, Land Reform and Renewable Energy.

Angus has worked for large commercial law firms and latterly for a renewable energy company. He will be dealing with general crofting and property transactions and giving specialist assistance in community acquisitions and renewable energy schemes.

Angus comes from the crofting township of Melness in Sutherland.

Evonne Morrison is joining Inksters as a Trainee Solicitor. Coming from Shetland she has an interest in crofting law and will be assisting the team in day to day crofting transactions/cases.

These three new team members join Brian Inkster and Martin Minton to provide Inksters’ clients with a formidable crofting law team of five.

Crofting Law A-Team

Derek Flyn, Angus Mackay, Evonne Morrison, Martin Minton and Brian Inkster

Brian Inkster has dealt with crofting law matters for over 25 years and appears in the Scottish Land Court regularly and is often called upon to provide opinions on complex crofting law matters.

Brian is the Hon Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, a member of the Crofting Group of Scottish Land & Estates, the Cross-Party Group on Crofting at the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government Crofting Stakeholder Forum, the Crofting Register Stakeholder Forum and the Crofting Legislation Stakeholder Consultation Group.

Brian is a regular contributor at crofting law conferences and blogs about crofting law on this blog.

Martin Minton is a solicitor who has been with Inksters for five years concentrating on crofting law. Martin deals with crofting property transactions and disputes. He also deals with wills and executries involving crofting issues.

Martin comes from a crofting family in Dundonnell near Ullapool.

Martin has contributed articles and legal updates on crofting law for various publications and for this blog. He is the editor of the Crofting Law Group Newsletter.

Inksters’ crofting law team provide members of the Scottish Crofting Federation with a crofting law helpline.

Brian Inkster said:-

“With the current turmoil at the Crofting Commission over their handling of issues surrounding Common Grazings Committees it is essential for crofters to receive the best possible advice that they can get. I am delighted that Inksters have assembled a crofting law A-Team that will give our clients just that.”

If you need to call in the ‘Crofting Law A-Team’ then phone Rose Sullivan on 0345 450 0123 and she will direct you to a member of the team. Alternatively e-mail the crofting law A-Team or use the Contact Form on this blog to do so.

Political Consensus on the need for Crofting Law Reform

Crofting Question Time - Crofting Law Conference 2016

 

At the Crofting Law Conference (organised by the WS Society and the Crofting Law Group) held in the Signet Library, Edinburgh yesterday there was cross-party agreement on the need for crofting law reform.

Trudi Sharp, Deputy Director of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, in the Scottish Government stood in at the last minute for Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, who was unfortunately unwell and unable to deliver the keynote address on behalf of the Government.

Trudi Sharp - Crofting Law Conference 2016Trudi Sharp indicated that she had yet to speak to anyone who would disagree with the sentiment that there was a need to simplify crofting legislation. She said:-

The Minister is clear that crofting legislation should be well thought through with stakeholders and deliver law that is modern, simple and fit for purpose.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Views from the OppositionThe Conference heard the views of the opposition from Rhoda Grant MSP, Scottish Labour; Tavish Scott MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrats; Donald Cameron, election candidate for Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party; and Andy Wightman, election candidate for Scottish Green Party.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Jean Urquhart MSPThis was followed by ‘Crofting Question Time’ moderated by Jean Urquhart MSP with the opposition MSPs/election candidates being joined for that session by Rob Gibson MSP, Scottish National Party.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Rob Gibson MSPThere was little in the way of disagreement about the need for crofting law reform.

Rhoda Grant MSP - Crofting Law Conference 2016Rhoda Grant MSP said:-

The 2010 Act is a mess and probably needs to be revoked altogether.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Tavish Scott MSPThis was echoed by Tavish Scott MSP who said:-

The less said about the 2010 Act the better. It is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever passed by the Scottish Government.

He added:-

Crofting Law has been a mitigated mess and devolution has not helped take it forward.

Crofting Question Time at Crofting Law Conference 2016Both Tavish Scott and Rhoda Grant were of the view that crofting can mean different things in different areas. Shetland, for example, is very different to other areas that may work in a more communal way. They felt the current legislation does not recognise these differences.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Donald CameronDonald Cameron was of the view that it was “time for crofting law to be for the crofters and not the lawyers”. He warned though that “if you legislate in haste on crofting law you will repent at leisure”.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Andy WightmanAndy Wightman, quoting Dr Jim Hunter, referred to crofting law as a “highly unsatisfactory guddle”.

Crofting Law Conference 2016 - Brian InksterBrian Inkster, Hon Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, commented:-

It is heartening to see such cross-party support for crofting law reform. The word ‘mess’ was used more than once to describe the current state of crofting legislation. It is to be hoped that the next Scottish Government take cognisance of this and put crofting high on their agenda for new legislation during the next parliamentary term.

Photo Credit: All photos are by Rob McDougall for the Crofting Law Group

Setting the Agenda for Crofting Reform

Setting the Agenda for Crofting LawAhead of the Crofting Law Conference in Edinburgh today The Scotsman have published an article with the headline ‘Crofters to lobby for key changes to ‘complicated’ laws‘.

They quote Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of the Scottish Crofting Federation, as saying:-

Crofting law is notoriously complicated and the waters have been further muddied after the 2010 Crofting Act.

Crofting is unique in Scotland by having its own legislation and being a regulated system. It is therefore is essential that the legislation is fit for purpose.

The act needed cleaning up before the 2010 changes. This is unfinished business.

Unfortunately the 2010 introduced further errors and anomalies. The Sump gathered 126 of these and probably the only way to address them is with a new act.

Politicians are a bit reluctant to do this, but SCF is asking parliamentary candidates to finish the job.

And they also quote Brian Inkster, in his capacity as Hon Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, as saying he hopes today’s conference will set the agenda for crofting reform by the next Scottish government. Brian told The Scotsman:-

On Monday I will be spending much of the day arguing before the Scottish Land Court the significance of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 having deleted the word ‘or’ in a section of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993.

The result could be an unintended consequence. This is a good example of the problems that the 2010 Act has been causing since its introduction. It was an extremely badly drafted piece of legislation on top of existing complex law.

There remain numerous problems and issues in the legislation that can trip up the unwary on a daily basis. The current government pledged to resolve matters, and the next government really must seize the bull by the horns and sort the mess out once and for all. That will involve a comprehensive new crofting act that is well drafted, easily understood and designed to resolve the existing problems and not create any new ones.

MSP Alex Fergusson has referred to recent crofting legislation being like the Hydra. You think you have solved a problem but suddenly two new ones appear. The next Scottish government simply can’t afford to let that happen again.

We will provide a full report on today’s Conference after the event.

Crofting Law Hustings

Crofting Law Hustings at the Signet Library

The calm before the crofting law storm at the Signet Library!

Part of this year’s Crofting Law Conference (organised by the Crofting Law Group in association with the WS Society) will take the form of a hustings on crofting law. With the Scottish Parliamentary Elections looming there is great interest in crofting circles as to what the next Scottish Government might do to resolve the many problems in existing crofting legislation identified by The Crofting Law Sump Report.

The conference will take place at the Signet Library in Edinburgh on 17th March 2016 and is Chaired by Sir Crispin Agnew of Lochnaw Bt., QC, Chairman of the Crofting Law Group.

Brian Inkster, Hon Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, will provide an introduction as to where we are at with ‘The Crofting Law Sump’. Then Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform will keynote on the current Scottish Government’s position on crofting law. She will be followed by the ‘Views on Crofting Law from the Opposition’ from MSPs and representatives from other political parties. The crofting law hustings will culminate with an opportunity for delegates to put their own questions to the panel in a ‘Crofting Question Time’ session. Participants are:-

  • Jean Urquhart MSP, Independent (moderating ‘Crofting Question Time’)
  • Rob Gibson MSP, Scottish National Party
  • Rhoda Grant MSP, Scottish Labour
  • Tavish Scott MSP, Scottish Liberal Democrats
  • Donald Cameron, election candidate for Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
  • Andy Wightman, election candidate for Scottish Green Party

Following on from the crofting law hustings several recognised specialist speakers will present on Crofting Succession and Crofting Mortgages and representatives from both the Crofting Commission and Registers of Scotland will be there to discuss current issues. There will also be a case law update. Speakers and panellists include:

  • David Findlay, Solicitor, Crofting Commission
  • Rod Maclean, Solicitor, Murchison Law
  • Jill Clark, Head of Civil Law Reform Unit, Justice Directorate, Scottish Government
  • Eilidh Ross MacLellan, Solicitor, Inksters
  • Catriona Maclean, Chief Executive, Crofting Commission
  • Martin Corbett, Head of Policy Development, Registers of Scotland
  • Rhona Elrick, Registers of Scotland
  • Donald Cameron, Westwater Advocates

WS/CLG member: £180 + VAT
Non-member: £205 + VAT
Trainee/student/retired: £115 + VAT

All rates include lunch at the Signet Library.

To book, please contact Nicole Hatch at the WS Society:-

0131 220 3249

E-mail: nhatch@wssociety.co.uk

Download: crofting law conference booking form

The event is supported by First Title and Wesleyan

The Year of The Crofting Law Sump

Scottish Legal News Crofting Law Review 2015As 2015 draws to a close I am reproducing here an article I wrote for the Scottish Legal News Annual Review 2015. It looks at Crofting Law in 2014. Now a whole year ago I know. I have been asked to write another such review of 2015 which I will be doing shortly. That will appear in  the Scottish Legal News Annual Review 2016.

The Crofting Law Sump was set up by the Crofting Law Group in 2013. The purpose of ‘the Sump’ was to gather together details of the significant problem areas within existing crofting legislation.

During passage through the Scottish Parliament of the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2013, MSPs were informed by practitioners who had been called to give evidence about the many problems in the existing legislation that were causing difficulties for crofters, landlords and others.

Paul Wheelhouse MSP, who was then Minister for Environment and Climate Change with responsibility for crofting, gave an undertaking that his officials would investigate, in consultation with stakeholders, what the best method might be for dealing with these outstanding issues.

The Sump was set up to assist the Government in this process. Administration was carried out by Derek Flyn, retired crofting lawyer, and Keith Graham, formerly Principal Clerk of the Scottish Land Court. 2014 saw much activity by them both collating the issues and problems that are causing difficulties, prioritising them and indicating how the problems can be resolved.

In May 2014 the Crofting Law Group held workshops in Inverness to look at the problem areas identified in the Collected Sump Report and provide feedback thereon. Following those workshops and a written consultation process the Commented Sump Report was produced. There was then feedback sought on the priority levels attributable to problem areas within that report. Further debate on the Sump took place at the Crofting Law Group Conference in Lochmaddy, North Uist in October. The Final Report of the Crofting Law Sump, highlighting 126 problem issues, was then presented to the Scottish Government on 10 December 2014.

2015 will be the year that we hopefully see what the Scottish Government plan to do to resolve all of the problem areas that have been identified.

Whilst the Sump was being contemplated the Scottish Land Court were making decisions that shaped or clarified the law. During the year Lord McGhie retired as Chairman of the Land Court and was succeeded by Sheriff Roderick John MacLeod QC who became Lord Minginish. Sheriff MacLeod had been the Deputy Chair of the Land Court since 2006.

Whilst there were a few interesting and important decisions of the Land Court in 2014 the crofting law year ended with a bang following  their decision in MacGillivray v Crofting Commission (Application RN SLC/99/13 — decision of 18 December 2014).

That case concerned the Crofting Commission’s policy on decrofting where a croft unit is held in multiple ownership.

On 14 December 2012 Crofting Commissioners agreed to adopt a policy that all decrofting and letting applications in respect of crofts with multiple owners, must be submitted by all the owners, in their capacity collectively as the ‘landlord’ of the croft, even in those cases where the application related to a part of the croft held in title by only one of their number. This decision was based on legal advice obtained by the Commission but never published by them.

For the past two years many people have been affected by this policy decision and have been unable to decroft and thus develop land they own if a neighbour who happens to own part of the original croft unit is not willing to consent to the proposed development taking place. Mr & Mrs MacGillivray were in that very position. Their application to decroft land at North Ballachulish for house building had been rejected by the Crofting Commission because it did not have the consent of the landlord of that part of the original croft unit that remained in tenancy. Mr & Mrs MacGillivray referred the matter to the Scottish Land Court who decided that the Crofting Commission were wrong and it was competent for an owner of part of a croft to seek to decroft without requiring the consent of any other owners of the original croft unit. The Land Court took the view that the reference to a croft in the Crofting Acts applied equally to part of a croft.

The Land Court’s decision will have come as a relief to many who have been affected by the Crofting Commission’s policy. However, any hopes of an early resolution to their own predicaments have been dashed by the Crofting Commission lodging a request that a special case be stated on a question of law for the opinion of the Court of Session. It is now likely to be many months before a ruling is issued that will settle the matter once and for all.

Many crofting lawyers, including myself, have long held the view that the Crofting Commission’s policy was not a correct interpretation of the law. At the outset I called on this matter to be resolved before the Land Court by the Commission or action to be taken by the Scottish Government to do so. It is a pity that one affected party (there are many) has had to take the Crofting Commission to task over this whilst others have been left in limbo for over two years.

The Land Court’s decision was a clear, sensible and fair one. Even if the Court of Session ultimately were to take a different view, affected parties will continue to lobby the Scottish Government to amend crofting legislation to allow those who own croft land to be able to apply to decroft at their own instance. It is a problem that was highlighted in the final Sump Report as a priority one for the Scottish Government to tackle. They may, of course, not have to tackle it if the Court of Session agrees with the Land Court’s interpretation of the law.

N.B. Since this article was first published the Crofting Commission withdrew their request for a special case to be stated on a question of law for the opinion of the Court of Session. Therefore, the Land Court’s decision in MacGillivray v Crofting Commission (Application RN SLC/99/13 — decision of 18 December 2014) stands. See: Crofting Commission make a U-turn on Decrofting Appeal to the benefit of many owner-occupiers.

Download the Scottish Legal News Annual Review 2015 [via Calameo].

Brian Inkster

To Buy or Not to Buy?

Buy your croftCroft tenants have enjoyed, since 1976, a right to purchase (1) their croft house and (2) their croft land. These rights differ significantly in that a crofter is ENTITLED to a conveyance of the site of her* croft house, and has a slightly qualified right to purchase her croft land. It is important to distinguish between these two rights during the negotiation of terms and conditions and also the conveyancing to reflect, for example, the different purchase prices for each type of land, and the fact that a landlord can request a security in respect of future claw back and a lease of the sporting rights, over croft land but not a croft house site.

It is interesting to note that the exercise of the right to purchase has differed widely according to geography. The Western Isles, for example, have seen proportionally far fewer croft purchases than on the mainland. These figures are borne out yet again in the latest Crofting Commission Annual Report & Accounts 2013-14.

Reasons to Purchase – 2009

Myself and some other members of the Crofting Law Group delivered a series of lectures to students of Strathclyde University in 2009. I lectured on, amongst other topics, croft purchase, and the reasons I gave at that time for purchase were as follows:-

  1. To remove an uncooperative landlord.
  2. To facilitate the development of the croft – eg. to sell a house site on the open market it is necessary to (a) decroft and (b) obtain a title deed to the site.
  3. Some crofters feel that they have a greater voice politically as owners rather than tenants (although many tenants would use the same argument).
  4. To simplify transferring a croft either within the life of the crofter, or in a crofter’s will:
    a. In a crofter’s lifetime, a croft can be transferred without the consent of the Crofters Commission (as it was in 2009 but now, of course, the Crofting Commission) in respect of the proposed new crofter. The provisions of the Act will still apply, and the Crofters Commission will still regulate in much the same way, but their consent is not required to a transfer.
    b. After death, a croft tenancy can only be left to a single natural person, whereas a croft on a title deed (an owner-occupied croft) can be bequeathed in the same way as other heritable property. Many wills are drafted incorrectly, which could mean (arguably) that the croft in question will fall in to intestacy.

Update for 2015

These reasons still apply, although the development of a croft at (2) above is less significant than it once was, due to both the stance taken on decrofting by the Crofting Commission (who have indicated in the clearest possible terms that they wish to radically reduce the amount of land being decrofted), and also to the extension of the period (to ten years from the date of purchase) during which a former croft landlord can claw back financial benefit obtained by the former crofter by the sale of his croft land.

Furthermore, the 2010 Act provided that a croft tenancy could be left to one person or to more than one person, and so that reason is perhaps less relevant than it once was. That said, I still advise clients to bequeath a tenancy to only one person (or if they wish to bequeath to more than one person, to purchase the croft), because if the Crofting Commission refuse an application by the executor to divide the croft to effect the bequest, the tenancy falls in to intestacy, which is a problem for discussion another day.

For 2015, I would also add that I now find myself advising an increasing number of crofters to purchase to preclude their landlord granting servitude rights over tenanted croft land, in favour of third parties. I cannot account for the increase in landlords doing so, other than to speculate that it is perhaps caused by the ever-increasing value of land in the crofting counties, and perhaps also the increasing financial savvy shown by some landlords.

A landlord can grant servitude rights over tenanted croft land; that much is clear. Suppose a landlord was approached by a third party who owned an area of land adjoining a tenanted croft, and that third party requested the grant of a servitude right of drainage for their septic tank, or perhaps a servitude right of wayleave for a water or electricity supply, over the croft land. The landlord should, of course, seek the consent of his tenant crofter, and perhaps most do, but there is no doubt that some landlords (in my experience an increasing number) either do not seek consent, or they ignore a refusal of consent and grant the servitude regardless.

The crofter’s remedy is then to seek a reduction in her rent. However, every crofter I know would rather retain their original croft, unsullied by the digging of trenches and the uncertainty of whether the neighbour will maintain his septic tank, than a slight reduction in an already low rent. Make no mistake: large areas of croft land could be rendered useless for many months (in the case of a badly maintained septic tank, semi-permanently or permanently) in the event that a landlord grants such rights.

An owner-occupier crofter (and an owner-occupier who is not an owner-occupier crofter) does not have to simply hope that his landlord respects his rights, because she is the one who will be approached by the third party for the grant of the servitude and she may, like any other heritable proprietor, refuse for any reason or for none.

Servitude rights of access carry an even higher degree of risk for a tenant crofter. Perhaps a landlord grants a right to construct a new access road to serve a new residence over tenanted croft land; or perhaps grants a right of access to a third party to use an access road which has been constructed at some expense to the crofter. Both of these actions are grossly unfair to crofters.

Reasons not to Purchase – 2009

The reasons I gave in 2009 against purchasing a croft were as follows:-

  1. Availability of grant assistance.
  2. Feeling of loyalty to the original system of crofting tenure.

Update for 2015

Both of these reasons, to some extent may still influence a crofter’s decision to purchase or not to purchase. Certainly I am aware of a continuing feeling of loyalty to the old system of tenure and this is of course understandable. Whether that explains the lack of take-up in the Western Isles I cannot say, however!

The availability of grant assistance requires a little more explanation, and indeed has inspired its own blog post: Did the 2010 Act Equalise Availability of Crofting Grants? In 2009 grant assistance was certainly a factor in deciding whether to purchase (and indeed may have been the principal factor in deciding whether to do so), but is it still a relevant factor in 2015? After all, the 2010 Act was intended to equalise owner-occupier crofters and tenant crofters, both in terms of the regulatory framework to which they were subject, and also the financial assistance which was available to them.

In short, financial assistance from CCAGS is now available for owner-occupier crofters as well as tenant crofters, but the position with CHGS has not yet been equalised, and crofters purchasing their crofts can only claim this grant within seven years of purchasing their croft – no change from the pre-2010 position. For more discussion on this topic see my separate blog post: Did the 2010 Act Equalise Availability of Crofting Grants?

Conclusion

As ever, the decision whether to purchase will depend largely on an individual crofter’s circumstances. If the crofter has already availed herself of the CHGS, it is difficult to see how purchase could disadvantage her. If the crofter wishes to purchase and is confident of applying to the CHGS within the seven year period, there may be no prejudice. But if a crofter has not yet applied to the CHGS and the building of a croft house is on the back burner for financial or other reasons, yet there is a worry that her landlord may grant servitude rights to third parties, the decision becomes more complex.

*Just to be different, the use of the feminine article is deemed, for the purposes of this blog post, to include the masculine.

Eilidh Ross MacLellan

A pivotal year for Crofting Law

Scottish Legal News Crofting Review 2014This is an article that Brian Inkster wrote for the Scottish Legal News Annual Review 2014:-

2013 was certainly a year to remember in the world of crofting law. It started in February when the Crofting Commission issued a statement concerning decrofting applications made by owner-occupier crofters who occupy their crofts.

The Commission, having taken legal advice on the question of whether or not an owner-occupier crofter can decroft part or all of their croft, stated that they believed the amendments introduced by the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 (“the 2010 Act”) did not make provision for an owner-occupier crofter to decroft if he is occupying his croft.

Furthermore, the Commission stated that they had been advised that they would be acting outwith their statutory authority if they approved any application made to decroft, and that no further applications would be considered until a remedy was found, with applications at that time in process being placed in abeyance.

The implications of this were significant to say the least. The Crofting Commission were not only preventing owner-occupier crofters and connected third parties from building houses or carrying out other developments but they were in effect saying that decrofting directions already granted by them may be invalid. If such directions were invalid then, if title deeds had been granted in reliance of those directions, those title deeds would be null and void. This is because applications to divide an owner-occupied croft will not have been made prior to transfer (such applications not being necessary if the land was decrofted but necessary if the land was not decrofted). Banks who had granted mortgages in reliance of such decrofting directions were also exposed.

I looked at the legislation and simply could not see the problem perceived by the Crofting Commission. I published an opinion setting out why the existing legislation clearly provided for decrofting by owner-occupier crofters. To date that opinion has not been openly challenged and the Crofting Commission refused to publish their legal opinion (so no one knows the actual reasoning behind the Commission’s decision to halt processing decrofting applications).

Faced with differing legal opinion the Scottish Government decided to introduce a Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill and rush it through Parliament with all due haste. The Bill they drafted was, in my opinion, a sledge hammer to crack a nut with the potential to introduce even more unintended consequences into crofting law. I suggested and drafted a shorter version at 621 words rather than 1,700 words. I and the other crofting lawyers who put forward submissions were ignored. The Bill was enacted as originally drafted without any amendment whatsoever during the three stages that it very quickly passed through the Scottish Parliament. The Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2013 become law on 31 July 2013 when it received Royal Assent.

The Scottish Government, during the passage of the Bill, continually sidestepped another fairly significant issue that was causing difficulty for many owner-occupiers who were not classed by the 2010 Act as owner-occupier crofters. Back in February the Crofting Commission had also published a statement on decrofting by owner-occupiers who were not owner-occupier crofters. Their view, having obtained legal advice, was that if an original croft unit had been split into different parts each owned by a separate owner-occupier then no one owner-occupier could decroft part of their own land without the consent and concurrence of the neighbouring owner-occupiers. The end result is that if you fall into this category and don’t want your neighbour developing land that they own you can simply prevent them from so doing.

A Scottish Government Official said that he hoped everybody would be able to work together at some point to recognise the benefits by concurring in decrofting applications. Tavish Scott MSP pointed out that “we do not live in a perfect world”. Time has shown that we don’t with several examples arising of owner-occupiers being prevented from developing their land.

This problem could easily have been cured by a minor provision within the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2013. The Scottish Government by ignoring the issue have allowed the problem to manifest itself as time goes on. They may well be forced to consider a further Crofting Amendment Bill to fix it.

During the passage of the latest Bill it became apparent to MSPs that much was wrong with Crofting Law. Many of these problems stem from the fact that the 2010 Act was the result of a Bill that had 230 amendments all dealt with at Stage 3 in less than 3 hours.

Alex Fergusson MSP said “The whole thing seems to me to be a bit like the Hydra—you cut off one head and two others appear. With crofting, we get rid of one problem and two others appear in its place.”

Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change with responsibility for crofting, gave an undertaking that his officials would investigate, in consultation with stakeholders, what the best method might be for dealing with these outstanding issues. That consultation is now on-going.

The Crofting Law Group set up a ‘Sump’ to assist the Government in this process. It is being administered by Derek Flyn, retired crofting lawyer, and Keith Graham, formerly Principal Clerk of the Scottish Land Court. They are collating the issues and problems that are causing difficulties, prioritising them and indicating how the problem can be resolved. Their Report will be made available to the Scottish Government on completion.

From 30th November compulsory registration in the new Crofting Register, held by Registers of Scotland, was introduced for crofts if certain trigger events occur. The Crofting Register is a product of the 2010 Act and already it is being suggested that there may be unintended consequences arising from the drafting of the legislation. More fodder for the ‘Sump’!

2014 will be a pivotal year for crofting law with the publication of the ‘Sump’ Report and hopefully some indication from the Scottish Government as to what they intend doing to clear up the mess that the 2010 Act created.

Brian Inkster

The Crofting Law Sump

Crofting Law Sump

The Crofting Law Group has announced details of its Crofting Law Sump. The purpose of ‘the Sump’ is to gather together details of the significant problem areas within existing crofting legislation.

During the recent passage through the Scottish Parliament of the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2013, MSPs were informed by practitioners who had been called to give evidence about the many problems  in the existing legislation that were causing difficulties for crofters, landlords and others.

Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Environment and Climate Change with responsibility for crofting, gave an undertaking that his officials would investigate, in consultation with stakeholders, what the best method might be for dealing with these outstanding issues.

The Sump has been set up to assist the Government in this process. It will be administered by Derek Flyn, retired crofting lawyer, and Keith Graham, formerly Principal Clerk of the Scottish Land Court. They will collate the issues and problems that are causing difficulties, prioritise them and indicate  how the problem can be resolved. Their Report will be made available to the Scottish Government on completion.

Brian Inkster, Hon. Secretary of the Crofting Law Group, said “this initiative will hopefully assist the Scottish Government in deciding what to do next with crofting law. It is a notoriously complex area of the law and with experts of the calibre and experience of Derek Flyn and Keith Graham the Report will be comprehensive, thorough and focussed.”

Submissions to the Crofting Law Sump will be taken up to the end of this year and should be sent by e-mail to sump@croftinglawgroup.org or can be tweeted to @croftinglawsump. Information concerning the Sump will be updated at www.croftinglawgroup.org.

Crofting Law Conference 2013 in Tweets

Crofting Law Conference  2013 in the Signet Library, EdinburghThis year’s Crofting Law Conference organised by the Crofting Law Group in association with the WS Society took place at the Signet Library in Edinburgh on 27 September 2013. Martin Minton provided a report on the Crofting Law Conference for The Firm. I was tweeting throughout the Conference via @CroftingLaw and now reproduce my tweets here:-

Sir Crispin Agnew opens the annual Crofting Law Conference

Sir Crispin announcing ‘the sump’ to gather crofting law problems for consideration of Scottish Government [N.B. More details on this to follow in the next post on this blog]

Now @RobGibsonMSP giving the keynote address

There is a future for crofting and need to make legislation for it

.@RobGibsonMSP quoting @LesleyRiddoch

2007 Crofting Act seen as a quick fix

Layer upon layer of laws

RT @thehealthrebel: and the listing of many croft buildings making them expensive to maintain and/or purchase!

Codifying possibly the best way forward

Depopulation an issue in crofting communities

50% of homes in some crofting communities are holiday homes only used for part of year

Scottish crofting scene is fragile

Need for more local control in crofting

Benefit of Crofting Connections and Crofting Federation Training being mentioned

Out migration, particularly by women, is an issue

Convenor and Chair of Crofting Commission now women

Challenge is to adopt a can do approach

Q&A session with @RobGibsonMSP

Can we use legislation to encourage more female crofting tenants?

Very happy for Scottish Government to look at this

Clarification on codification v consolidation being sought

Codification may do something more fundamental for this generation

New start much more noteworthy than getting all the laws into one book

Can’t have joint tenancies of crofts – that would bring females in

Re-defining crofting law politically or legally?

Hope that there is a small farm ethos that can be encompassed in laws that are not so archaic

RT @RobGibsonMSP Made keynote speech WS crofting law conf. Simplify codify underpin future croft extension to all similar small land holders I argued today

Now Susan Walker Convenor of Crofting Commission on the Residency Duty (commonly referred to as Absenteeism)

1886 “Resides on the holding”

1955 “on, or within two miles of, the croft”

1961 increased to 10 miles

2010 Act now 32km

S40A notice – are crofters complying with residency duty? Should have been done by Commission by April. Still to do.

s49A Grazing Committee duty to report on residency

We now have microphones working – much clearer audio!

Difficult but not impossible to cultivate your croft if absent

9 of 10 people in 2,500 responses in @MarkShucksmith‘s Report wanted action on absenteeism

Only 2 letters in one geographical area complaining about absenteeism legislation. Many letters seeking action on absenteeism

1801 absentees with 582 of those for over 10 years

“Ordinarily resident” taken in the round about what a crofters entire duties are. Do they have “settled purpose”.

Wouldn’t take action where relative stays on the croft

Evidence of active use of the croft

Sublets for not more than two years to absentees unless for good reason

Ministerial direction in 2010 to take action for absentee cases over 10 years. Can take 18 to 24 months to process.

Stages: Review, Proposal to Terminate, Advertise proposal to terminate, Terminate tenancy.

RT @culcairn: should never be a 2 year process. Undermines confidence in act.

Advertising not in legislation but gets info from crofting community to help decision to inform

Can apply for consent to be absent

Fixed term work contract, education, hospital, no house (need to build) all reasons for need to be absent

RT @NeilKing11 Why was none of this covered in the CC Plan? tinyurl.com/p3hrxam

Complex flowchart now being shown of s26A-K process

Easier to understand pictorially than from legislation

Results: 300 crofts now have resident crofters. Either returning crofters or assignations.

35 terminations

August 2013 – 13,616 crofters with 13% being absentees

Commission understand emotional attachment and sense of duty that people have to their croft

Do I want to be a crofter, live on and work croft and be active in community and care enough about my croft to change my life

Want to create thriving crofting communities. When holes they don’t work so effectively

Residency easier to deal with than neglect #croftinglaw Is it not better to tackle neglect than absenteeism where no neglect?

Vast manpower would be required to deal with neglect

Breaking for tea/coffee

Sump Group Results now on crofting problems

Owner-occupiers who are not owner-occupier crofters who need consent of neighbours of original croft unit

Validity of Decrofting Directions issued pre Feb 2013 to owner-occupiers who are not owner-occupier crofters

Problems of Crofting Commission identifying owner-occupiers who are not owner-occupier crofters

Need for section 5(3) Agreements to apply to tenants and owner/occupiers and binding on successors and tenants

Landlords need to pay compensation on terminations made by Commission due to absentees. Large financial commitment

Assignation of croft on First Registration needs to be intimated by assignor to Commission within 3 months or invalid

Purchase of a croft by tenant does not trigger registration

Purchase of whole croft when sasine title. Need to be sure is whole croft or deed will be invalid.

s.17/18 feu ganted when tenancy given up. Now when decroft that is not an exemption from registration in crofting register

Access rights should be registered on crofting register

Status of grazings shares still not clear

Can we divide a grazing share from the croft?

Multiple owners – can we draw a line under the sand and take previous divisions as actual divisions?

Removal of “cultivate by hired labour”. Why?

If Land Court could propose changes to Scheme for Development that might be useful

What happens when you deviate from a Scheme for Development that has been granted?

Crofters duties: neglect a bigger problem than absenteeism

2010 Act difficult to understand

Evil happening in Skye re. termination of tenancies and Landlords extracting a premium on re-letting

Joint landlords can’t make application to divide a croft so must re-let part so they become owner-occupiers of new croft

Multiple owner-occupiers and duties. Do all need to comply or just 1. Commission say 1. If only 5% complying is that sufficient

Joint tenants? Worth exploring.

Validity of corporate entities in a crofting context

Advertising costs re. Crofting Register – could be £100 per advert x 2.

Need distinction between codification and consolidation but whatever #croftinglaw needs to be simplified

Confusion over role of Commission in planning process

Issues at Commission Hearing as to who has the right to be heard

Now lunch 🙂

Clean Slate debate next

Unfortunately @JimHunter22 was unable to make the clean slate debate so Sir Crispin Agnew running solo

85 year old crofter in Barra said 2 cow croft gives you milk for 12 months. 1 cow croft 6 months. Importance of soumings

Then fridges and supermarkets came along and soumings less important

Croft rents not kept up with open market rents for agricultural holdings

Landlords receive no financial benefits from crofts. No incentive to create more or invest in them.

RT @gemzmackenzie: @CroftingLaw might be worth writing a letter to FW summarising the key issues/pointers?

Crofts are getting smaller and smaller and less economic to be used

Obligation to maintain croft difficult for the elderly

No absentee problem in 1886

The crofting bubble. Many Acts and consultations over the years. No one looked at social needs and integrate.

Scrap the crofting Acts and start again.

Review of whole policies to see what should be applied in Scotland or different areas. Local needs vary – policies may need to.

Is starting from scratch codification?

If Government not brave enough still need a clean slate re. crofting Acts and policy objectives.

Abolish the difference between owner/occupiers (crofters/non-crofters) and tenants. Same conditions whoever is in occupation.

Stop resumption unless by CPO

Put all croft rents up to a proper market value

RT @crofterbecca “@CroftingLaw: Put all croft rents up to a proper market value #croftinglaw” Aye, that’ll make crofting more financially attractive…

Incoherence of policy objectives the root of legislative problems

Ministers arrived in middle of this. Lawyers are major advisers. Simpler ways to deliver policy intentions necessary.

Economics and Social situations changed but still applying laws from 1886

RT @AngusMacNeilMP as tenancies did for landowning in 1886 we need a grazing right over tenancy but still leaving tenancies widespread wi folk

Crofting Register: Where are we now? with Martin Corbett of registers of Scotland

Transparency of extent of land #croftinglaw But not grazings shares?!

9 month challenge period

Online register and free of charge to access with no need to sign up to do so

First croft registration being discussed #croftinglaw Covered by us at ow.ly/pgZog

12 evening events on Crofting register being run from Barra to Shetland by Registers of Scotland + attending Highland Shows.

Badralloch Community Mapping underway

Compulsory Registrations from 30 November 2013 on trigger events happening

Suggest if first Registration in Land Register also do Crofting Register application at same time.

Land Registration (Scotland) Act 2012 gets rid of overriding interests other than 3 types. Crofting will no longer be noted.

Crofting Register: ros.gov.uk/croftingregist…

David Barnes – Can’t rush into new crofting legislation. Welcome collective approach of gathering problems together (‘the sump’)

28 national governments and 700 MEPs put together CAP Reform

New Basic Payment Scheme replaces SFP

Move from historic to area based payments – but can phase in (internal convergence)

Can split Scotland into different payment areas

Small Farmer Scheme = simplified option. One off application at beginning and lump sum every year without fresh applications

Crofters can claim new basic payment on in-bye land and common grazing

Common grazing claim can be individual or via grazing management committee

crofters can claim greening payment

Crofters can claim other payments where appropriate

Small Farming Scheme may not be run in Scotland – still under consideration

Now Charlotte Coutts Advocate gives us a case law update

Resumption. Deer larder and hard standing for estate vehicles = reasonable

Resumption for ponies allowed

Land once resumed is outside the jurisdiction of the Land Court

Cameron v Nevis Estates: conditions of purchase could not be varied to those originally imposed by Court. One bite at cherry

No opportunity afforded by Commission to comment on other sides comments. Breach of natural justice.

Recent case on whether part of a holding = croft. Needs to fall within definition in statute.

Shetland croft boundary case being discussed. Interesting social history of case. #croftinglaw Yes… 101 productions!

Court placed boundaries where in all the circumstances they considered them to be.

Pairc Crofters case: Protection afforded to landowners. Human rights referred to.

Conference closes

Brian Inkster

[Photo Credit: © BBC Alba]