Tag Archives: Crofting Law Sump

Decrofting uncertainty continues as Crofting Commission take case to the Court of Session

Court of SessionThe Crofting Commission last week lodged a request that a special case be stated on a question of law for the opinion of the Court of Session in connection with the Land Court’s decision of 18 December 2014 in the case of MacGillivray v Crofting Commission. 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 appealing that decision to 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 Crofting Law 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.

Brian Inkster

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]