Tag Archives: crofting law

Land Court rule that Crofting Convener has no right to purchase his Apportionment

Apportionment Arinagour Common Grazings Isle of Coll

Colin Kennedy’s Apportionment at Arinagour Common Grazings, Isle of Coll with his wind farm development and excavated house site

The Scottish Land Court has issued a decision to the effect that an application by Colin Kennedy, Convener of the Crofting Commission, to purchase his Apportionment at Arinagour Common Grazings on the Isle of Coll is incompetent.

Mr Kennedy pursued a series of Land Court actions with individuals and also had a long running dispute with the Crofting Commission, on a personal basis, over a number of years seeking to secure rights in the Common Grazings and obtain an Apportionment.

An Apportionment was finally granted in his favour by the Crofting Commission on 31 October 2014 although it did not take in areas of the Common Grazings originally desired by Mr Kennedy.

Having obtained the Apportionment, on which he has erected three wind turbines and a shed with plans to construct a croft house, Mr Kennedy then sought to purchase it from the Landlord, Martin Smith. The Landlord refused to sell and Mr Kennedy brought an application to the Land Court to purchase.

I represented Mr Smith at the hearing before the Land Court.

It has long been established in crofting law that there is no right under the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 to purchase an Apportionment that is not adjacent or contiguous to another part of the crofter’s croft. Mr Kennedy’s apportionment was a ‘deemed croft’ under the legislation and it was settled law that such a ‘croft’ could not be adjacent to itself.

However, Mr. Kennedy argued that such settled law was overturned by the registration requirements under the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010. He maintained that under the 2010 Act a ‘deemed croft’ became a ‘croft’ when registered in the Crofting Register as his Apportionment had been.

Lord Minginish , in delivering the Land Court’s decision said:-

Mr Kennedy’s argument was ingenious and not without a certain logic.  But the problem it cannot evade and fails to deal with satisfactorily is the terms of sec 12(3) of the Act, which remain unamended by the 2010 Act.

In so finding the application was refused as incompetent by the Land Court.

The period of appeal to the Court of Session has expired without an appeal being lodged by Mr Kennedy and the Land Court has found Mr Kennedy liable to Mr Smith for the expenses of the application.

Thus Mr Kennedy remains a tenant of the Apportionment at Arinagour Common Grazings.

Brian Inkster

Notes:-

Read the full decision on the Scottish Land Court website: Kennedy v Smith [SLC/81/15]

Download a copy of the case: Kennedy v- Smith [PDF]

The Crofting Bat Phone

The Crofting Bat Phone

Commissioner Gordon and Batman didn’t have a look in to the lines of communication available between the Crofting Commissioner(s) and their Grazings Constable!

There have been quite a few comments of late about the difficulties of getting a statement from the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy. He is elusive to say the least and seldom represents the views of the Board to the general public despite this being one of his “particular responsibilities” .

Other Commissioners have been thin on the ground of late as well with no Commissioner replacing the Convener when he failed to attend the Scottish Government Crofting Stakeholder Forum in Inverness on Tuesday. This left the Chief Executive, Catriona Maclean, representing the views of the Commission in front of BBC Alba after the meeting.

Getting clear and unambiguous information out of Commissioners when you can pin them down is also often a challenge.

One person who seems to have direct access without difficulty to Commissioners (which might include, or indeed mean, the Convener) is the Grazings ‘Constable’ of Upper Coll, Colin Souter. He certainly appears to be in possession of information that only Commissioners would have and that well in advance of such information being made available to anyone else outside of Great Glen House.

One example of that became clear at the meeting of the Scottish Government Crofting Stakeholder Forum in Inverness on Tuesday.

I had been aware from the published Agenda that the Board of the Commission had considered a paper at their meeting on 17th August on ‘Grazings Committees – A Practical Approach to the Management of Common Grazings’. There was no mention of that at the Stakeholder Forum so I enquired about it.

I was advised that the Crofting Commission was setting up a Stakeholders’ Working Group to advise on the revision of common grazings regulations and guidance. This paper from 17th August would be considered by that group at a meeting on 20th September. Only after that meeting would the paper in question (possibly after refinement? – but that was not made clear) be circulated to the wider Stakeholder Forum.

So at the moment members of the Stakeholder Forum had no knowledge of or access to what the paper in question said. A stark contrast to the access to that paper apparently afforded to Grazings ‘Constable’ Colin Souter.

In the letter issued by Colin Souter to Shareholders of the Upper Coll Common Grazings on 29th August he states:-

The Board of Commissioners at a recent meeting, considered a submission along the lines I set out at the July meeting, whereby Committees can operate within a defined financial framework which allows retention of funds (from any legitimate source) in the bank, up to a maximum agreed by shareholders, taking account of any commitments under Schemes and projects ongoing and an Emergency Reserve (set at perhaps 3-4 times the 3-year average annual maintenance costs) and exceeding that amount automatically triggers payment to shareholders, three or four times a year. In doing so, the administrative burden is minimised for the Committee and they are seen to be operating within an agreed and better regulated financial framework. Whilst the Commission has a clear role, as regulator, in ensuring feu monies are distributed to shareholders, I understand it does not otherwise seek any direct involvement in other areas of finance affecting shareholders. The proposal tabled is seen as an initiative worthy of testing, for the benefit of Upper Coll and the wider crofting community but it is a choice for shareholders to make.

So even before the Commission has had the first meeting of its new Stakeholders’ Working Group, to advise on the revision of common grazings regulations and guidance, Colin Souter is seeking to impose the guidance so far produced (that no one other than Commissioners, Commission Officials and Colin Souter have seen) upon one particular Common Grazings, namely Upper Coll.

The same is true about his access to an Opinion from Queen’s Counsel which it is presumed was instructed by the Crofting Commission. In his said letter to shareholders at Upper Coll he said:-

Following receipt of legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel, the position of Grazings Committees being able to register for VAT as trading entities in order to reclaim VAT has come under scrutiny. The dialogue with HMRC regarding VAT status remains ongoing and once concluded, I will be able to advise on the outcome.

When I asked about this opinion at the Crofting Stakeholder Forum there was “no comment” from the Chief Executive of the Crofting Commission on behalf of the Board.

It is highly unusual for the Crofting Commission to publish legal advice received by them in any event.

On the topic of legal advice: Colin Souter seems very ready to challenge what he considers to be illegal activities at Upper Coll. It would be very unusual for a clerk in a common grazings (that is effectively what Colin Souter is had he been legally appointed) to appear so sure about crofting law without having sought legal advice. Not that I would give much weight to any advice that Colin Souter is getting given, in my view, a clear misunderstanding on his part as to what the law actually is.

We know that he thinks that legal advice cannot be paid for from grazings funds. So where is he getting his crofting law advice from? Is it likewise coming from Commission officials and/or from Commissioners and/or from a Commissioner? An organisation with a Board that has been shown to ignore the law and lawyers.

Why and how did one grazings clerk (i.e. Colin Souter) get privileged access to all of this information before any other grazings clerk in the land and before the members of the Crofting Stakeholder Forum? In the case of the opinion from Queen’s Counsel this may never be divulged to any other grazings clerks or to any members of the Crofting Stakeholder Forum.

The only explanation can be direct and special contact between him and a Commissioner and/or Commissioners and/or officials within the Crofting Commission.

So much for the assertion that he is acting at arms length and independent from the Commission.

It also again highlights the fact that he is under the control of and acting at the behest of the Crofting Commission. A reader of this blog having referred to him as a “maor” (or ground officer).

Serious questions must be asked by the Scottish Government about this arrangement and, in the circumstances, the validity of any pronouncements by the Crofting Commission and/or their ‘Constable’ over the situation at Upper Coll.

The Crofting Commission will no doubt say that the Scottish Government cannot investigate the situation when it is subject to on going court proceedings. Those court proceedings may touch upon the legality of the appointment of the Grazings ‘Constable’ in the first place.

But even if we take it that the appointment was legal (although that is denied) then the Scottish Government should be looking at the propriety of the relationship that exists between such a legally appointed grazings constable and the Crofting Commission.

Is it correct and proper that he has been given an investigative remit? Is it correct and proper that he is being supplied with the information that he has been? If it is not then who gave that remit and/or supplied that information?

If that was a Commissioner are they therefore, in all the circumstances, “unable or unfit to exercise the functions of a member” or “unsuitable to continue as a member”? As such should the Scottish Ministers remove them from office under and in terms of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993?

Even worse if it were to transpire that it was the Convener who was embroiled in all of this. After all he has, for some time, been the subject of complaints about his handling of the affair at Upper Coll and so should not be involving himself in matters concerning Upper Coll until the relevant complaints process has been completed. To do so would be a clear conflict of interest. But there again that has not stopped him before.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: The Bat Phone from Batman (TV Series) © Greenway Productions / 20th Century Fox Television

Crofters and Lawyers

Crofters and Lawyers - Yes they could instruct Rumpole!

It isn’t just the Crofting Commission who can instruct crofting law advice!

It was reported in The Scottish Farmer this week that, as part of the ‘findings’ of the illegally appointed grazings ‘constable’ to Upper Coll Common Grazings, Colin Souter had said in a letter to shareholders that:-

I have also written to the solicitor, Brian Inkster who was apparently engaged by the former Committee, to provide them with legal advice in their dispute with the Commission. Mr Inkster was paid £600 in fees from shareholders’ funds in April 2016. There is nothing in the 1993 Act which permits shareholders’ funds to be used in this way. In addition, there is no record in the Minutes of the decision to engage Mr Inkster, the brief involved or the paying of his invoice having been put to or approved by individual shareholders. Thus, the spending of shareholders’ money in this way, was outwith the power of the Committee at that time, meaning they acted outside of the law and the legal protection normally afforded. Such arbitrary decision-making is outside of the power of the Committee, where it commits spending and serves only to undermine the trust between Committee and shareholders.

In the first letter received by me from Mr Souter on this topic he boldly states:-

Nowhere in the Act, is it provided that shareholders’ money can legitimately be used to pay for legal services when a Grazings Committee is in dispute with any organisation, body or individual. For such to even be contemplated, I would consider it necessary for at least a unanimous vote by shareholders, to support the move. However, there is no indication in the Minute records of such a meeting, discussion or vote having taken place amongst shareholders. I consider it would be highly questionable, even under such circumstances, faced with the narrow terms of statutory responsibility held by Grazings Committees, that shareholders’ money, held for spending on maintenance or improvement of the common grazing, could legitimately be spent on legal advice from any solicitor.

With acceptance of this point, comes the ethical question of receiving the money, fully understanding the source and yet presenting the cheque for payment, (as an expert in Crofting legislation), with specific knowledge of the restrictions under the Act.

He then went on to ask me, in the circumstances, to send him a cheque for £600!

In the absence of receiving such a cheque from me he wrote again this time seeking the payment once more and also asking me for copies of certain documents that he would be willing to pay me a fee to receive. A bit ironic surely that he can pay solicitors fees all of a sudden when supposedly representing shareholders who he claims cannot!

He also, in this most recent letter, went on to threaten me:-

I offer this additional and final opportunity for you to respond on the matters raised in the initial correspondence and that above, before deciding upon the necessity for further action, which if taken, may well afford the benefit of free publicity but with the detail being made public, may nevertheless impact adversely upon your professional standing.

He concludes with the threat of raising a small-claims action against me presumably in the Sheriff Court.

View from Upper Coll

This is what certain shareholders at Upper Coll have to say about the matter in a letter issued to shareholders in response to the one issued by Mr Souter:-

He questions the legality of grazings committees seeking and paying for legal advice. In our case, Inksters Solicitors, who are well versed in Crofting Law were asked by the Grazing Committee to investigate the legality of the Upper Coll shareholders having to distribute the money received from feu dispositions with such haste by the Crofting Commission. He was given a limit of up to £600 to do so. This was actioned prior to the Grazings Committee being put out of office.

Inksters in their investigations were instrumental in the Crofting Commission performing a U-turn on their directive to Upper Coll (it was found that they were in fact acting outside the law!) and saving countless grazings a considerable amount of money!

It is ironic that Mr Souter finds fault with Upper Coll shareholders employing a legal expert to successfully show the injustices of the Crofting Commission whilst he himself while acting for the Upper Coll shareholders (in his opinion!) seeks the counsel of a QC to enquire as to the legitimacy of the Upper Coll Grazings being VAT registered!!

These shareholders at Upper Coll also make the following general point:-

The constable seems unable to understand that in the spirit of openness and transparency over the years in Upper Coll, all meetings were advertised and open to all shareholders, that all decisions were taken by the majority of those attending and that all these decisions were minuted.

He is also under the mistaken impression that the clerk took actions on his own initiative. That is untrue. The clerk’s actions were always as a result of decisions and actions approved by the majority of shareholders. If the clerk was at fault so were all those present at meetings who asked him to act on their behalf.

The constable seems to place blame on successive committees, when in fact all actions were approved at open shareholder meetings. The clerk, unlike the constable, only took action after being instructed to do so by shareholders.

View from the Crofting Law Blog

Mr Souter clearly has no idea about what his role is and what he should be doing even if he was appointed legally as a grazings constable which he has not been. On one hand (according to him) shareholders cannot seek legal advice, but on the other hand he can take unilateral action on their behalf (and presumably at their cost) with no discussion or agreement from them whatsoever.

He hasn’t a clue about the law and given that he thinks shareholders cannot seek legal advice under and in terms of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 he will presumably not be able to seek such advice himself to assist in his deliberations.

Having said that Mr Souter is apparently in receipt “of legal opinion from Queen’s Counsel” on whether Grazings Committees can register for VAT. It is not clear whether he, the Crofting Commission or some other party instructed this opinion. I will explore this specifically and in detail in future blog posts.

However, he seems able to instruct “agents“. It has been reported that:-

He said shareholders are “well aware” from his reports that all scheme applications due were completed by agents acting on behalf of the grazings and “processed accordingly and no financial loss has been suffered”.

A lawyer is simply an agent, no different surely from instructing any other agent to do work on your behalf that may be required?

In any event a right for crofters to instruct lawyers does not need to be contained in tablets of stone within the Crofting Acts. It is a fundamental human right. Try the Magna Carta for starters.

Shareholders in common grazings have been instructing lawyers to represent and provide them with advice in numerous matters over many years. Is Mr Souter really suggesting that all those lawyers need to repay fees received for work undertaken and advice given?

Is Mr Souter really saying that shareholders could not have a lawyer representing them in an action brought against them in the Scottish Land Court?

Does Mr Souter really think it is okay for the Crofting Commission to hire top QCs in their questionable battles against shareholders in common grazings but that those shareholders cannot be afforded access to lawyers themselves?

Has Mr Souter read the Guidance Notes issued by the Crofting Commission on the Management and Use of Common Grazings? These Guidance Notes contain an “Important note” that reads:-

The following guidance is intended to assist grazings committees with regard to the use of grazings regulations. The guidance does not constitute legal advice, and should not be construed as such. Should a grazings committee and/or shareholder require legal advice on a matter concerning common grazings, independent legal advice should be sought from a suitably qualified solicitor.

So even Mr Souter’s masters, who are not often commended for a common sense approach to matters, acknowledge and accept that shareholders can and should seek their own independent legal advice.

Should Mr Souter carry out his threat and raise court action against my law firm I will have no difficulty in defending it and calling the Crofting Commission in as a party to it. There will be a counterclaim for the time, inconvenience and costs caused to me unnecessarily by Mr Souter.

I do not recognise Mr Souter as having any legal standing or authority. His appointment was illegal and even the Crofting Commission knew this to be the case when making it.

Accordingly, I will not be replying directly to his letters. Instead I will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP, who has responsibility for crofting. I will, out of courtesy, copy my letter to Mr Souter.

I will be expressing my concerns to Mr Ewing about this illegal ‘constable’ being allowed to wreak havoc by the Crofting Commission. Mr Ewing has already had to rein in Convener Colin Kennedy. Now it is time for him to rein in another Colin.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Rumpole of the Bailey © ITV

Decisions “have been divisive, unacceptable and not in line with crofting law”

Scottish Crofting Federation welcomes intervention by Cabinet SecretaryIn a statement issued today the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has welcomed the intervention of rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing MSP in his letter to Colin Kennedy, Crofting Commission convener.

SCF chair, Fiona Mandeville, commented:-

We are pleased that the Scottish Government has finally endorsed what we and others have been saying for months, that the actions of the Commission convener, and the decisions he appears to have forced through, have been divisive, unacceptable and not in line with crofting law.

While Mr Ewing’s letter is not yet in the public domain, its contents have been summarised and made public. It is clear that the Scottish Government is as concerned as the SCF and all who care about crofting. BBC’s Jackie O’Brien has seen the letter and reports that the Government’s view is diametrically opposed to Mr Kennedy’s and that it is not sustainable for the Scottish Government and one of its public bodies to take opposing interpretations of the law.

Ms Mandeville continued:-

The secretary for rural affairs has written a direct personal reprimand to the convener, who should now do the honourable thing and stand down right away.

Commissioner Murdo Maclennan’s apparent assertion after the Commission’s recent board meeting is that the board is backing Kennedy.  Does the Crofting Commission convener agree with the board? Does the board unanimously support the convener? It is natural for a board to attempt to portray a consensus, but is this really the case?

Fergus Ewing, in his letter as reported by the BBC, expresses his grave concern that policy decisions may be taken without a clear mandate from the Crofting Commission’s board. This suggests such concerns are also held by Scottish Government.

Colin Kennedy must accept the reality that it is time for him to go.

Fudged response from Crofting Commission

Fudged response from Crofting CommissionFollowing the revelation this morning that the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, has stated in a letter that he wholly disagrees with the Convener of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy, over the handling of the common grazings debacle, I said that I awaited the Commission’s response with bated breath.

When it came this afternoon it was a fudged response which unfortunately but perhaps unsurprisingly did nothing to restore the faith of crofters in their regulator.

BBC Radio Scotland Newsdrive this afternoon aired a statement by Murdo Maclennan, Crofting Commissioner, who said on behalf of members (the Convener, Colin Kennedy, again conspicuous by his absence in front of the media):-

Once the letter was received the Convener convened a meeting of the Commission.

We had a full debate about it. As within every public body there are different views but at the end of the day we came to a unanimous decision on it and that has been conveyed to the minister.

So the position of the Scottish Government is one which we fully support and in a sense have never adversely had taken any adverse effect or decision regarding the Crofting Commission in relation to it.

I was then interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland Newsdrive and said:-

I can’t see how the Crofting Commission can take that view. I mean it has been made absolutely clear to them, from what I can understand, that they got it wrong and for them to think that in some sort of way that they didn’t is beyond me.

There needs to be clarity from the Crofting Commission. In light of the letter from Fergus Ewing I would have thought it would be a case of them holding their hands up in the air and saying “sorry we got it wrong, we apologise and we are going to do things to make this right and not happen again”.

But that is not what they have done or doesn’t seem to be what they have done so far.

Further comment by the Crofting Law Blog

Murdo Maclennan on one hand says that the Commission fully supports the position of the Scottish Government (i.e. that the Commission got it wrong) but on the other hand suggests that the Commission never did anything adverse to that position (i.e. didn’t do anything wrong?)!

Again this is done in a way that would not have been out of place in an episode of Yes Minister. Sir Humphrey Appleby would have delighted in the obfuscation and manipulation displayed with the almost unintelligible statement that:-

in a sense [the Commission] have never adversely had taken any adverse effect or decision regarding the Crofting Commission in relation to it.

That is I believe fairly accurately transcribed having listened to the recording on BBC iPlayer several times. Make of it what you will but my reading is a denial of wrongdoing. We may, of course, receive a Trump like retraction tomorrow that there was any meaning of the sort intended.

However, it is high time that the Crofting Commission gave crofters clarity over this matter. Crofting law may be complex but the utterings of the Crofting Commission are more complex and harder to decipher still.

The Scottish Government have told the Crofting Commission in no uncertain terms that they got it wrong. If they actually support that view then they should come out straight and admit that they got it wrong and apologise to the grazing committee members that they have wrongly tarnished and accused of wrongdoing. Unless and until they do so in clear and unambiguous terms no one can have any faith in anything that they do or say.

Brian Inkster

100 Crofting Law blog posts

100 Crofting Law blog postsMy last post, ‘The Chief Grazings Constable‘, was the 100th post on the Crofting Law Blog.

Quite a milestone.

I started the blog on 18th March 2013 because I was finding so much to write about the decrofting debacle. I said then:-

Crofting law appears to be in turmoil in a way that has possibly not been seen since it was introduced in 1886. The time is surely ripe for a crofting law blog to air the issues arising in an open, clear and transparent way.

Three years later and that turmoil has, somewhat unbelievably, got worse with the current common grazings debacle (aka ‘The Common Clearances‘).

There have been 32 blog posts on the common grazings debacle alone and that in the space of less than 3 months since the first one was published on the alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission. Coincidentally there is the same number of blog posts on here about the decrofting debacle. Although I had also written seven articles about that issue on inksters.com before starting the Crofting Law Blog. I reckon there will be more (probably a good bit more) than seven further blog posts to write about the common grazings debacle.

So we have the Crofting Commission and Scottish Government to thank (although we probably shouldn’t really be thanking them!) for creating the hot topics that have kept this blog so active.

The other 36 blog posts have covered a good mixture of crofting law matters including the Crofting Register, Scottish Land Court Technology, Crofting Law Sump, Sporting Rights on RaasayCroft House GrantsCrofting Convenergate, flaws in the Crofting Election Consultation, new appointments at the Crofting Commission, Scottish Government, Scottish Land Court and the Crofting Law A-Team.

Our blogs posts have, on the whole, been well received. They have, we would like to think, kept the Crofting Commission on their toes and perhaps even assisted some changes of heart on their part. We keep on blogging to explain the law, highlight injustices, to press for those changes and also as a result of nice comments of support like this one:-

I can’t thank you enough for the help and advice you have given over the last few months and I think the Crofting Law Blog has been an invaluable source of information that was virtually impossible to find anywhere else.

We have found obtaining relevant information from the Crofting Commission about the many complex aspects of crofting law extremely difficult so finding the Crofting Law Blog was a huge help to us.

You all deserve an award.

It seems a shame that such a clear and understandable source of information could not have been provided by the Crofting Commission itself.

A big thanks to all readers of and contributors to the Crofting Law blog over our first 100 blog posts. We will keep on blogging open, clear and transparent information about crofting law. If there is anything in particular you would like us to blog about or if you would like to contribute a post to the blog yourself then do let us know.

Brian Inkster

Carry on Grazings Constable

Carry on Grazings Constable

You can carry on constable

I have blogged about the (illegal, in my opinion and the opinion of others) appointment of Grazings Constables by the Crofting Commission to replace the grazings committees that they have evicted from office.

In the case of Mangersta Common Grazings the original purported appointment of the Grazings Constable ran for six months from and after 6 December 2015. Thus it expired on 6 June 2016. However, just before the expiry thereof the Crofting Commission sought to extend the ‘appointment’ for a further six months from and after 6 June 2016.

When challenged about the legality of the original appointment, from 6 December 2015, the Crofting Commission responded:-

The Commission’s understanding is that this was a final decision and the Commission has no authority to revisit its own decisions in these circumstances.

Thus they appeared to be of the view that if they make any decision (including an illegal one) they cannot change that decision.

They also stated:-

once the appointment of the constable comes to an end, it will be for the shareholders to appoint a committee in the usual manner

However, they went onto compound that illegal decision by actually revisiting it (something they said they could not do) and purporting to extend the appointment of the Grazing Constable for a further period of six months allowing him to carry on in ‘office’!

Even if they did have the power to appoint a Grazing Constable in these circumstances (which is denied) then they certainly do not have the power to extend the appointment.

Section 47(7) of the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 which provides for the term of office of Grazings Constables, appointed in circumstances where it is legitimate for the Commission to do so, states that:-

the term of office of a grazing constable… shall be such as may be specified in the instrument by which he is appointed.

Thus it is a one time appointment and cannot be extended.

Yet again the Crofting Commission simply ignore the law and flout the will of Parliament.

The Crofting Commission were called upon by me on 13 June 2016 to set out a detailed legal explanation with statutory and/or case law references if they disagreed with my interpretation of the law. The letter from my law firm, Inksters, to the Commission stated:-

In your said letter you state that “once the appointment of the constable comes to an end, it will be for the shareholders to appoint a committee in the usual manner”. However, that illegal appointment having come to an end we understand that the Commission have purported to extend it for another six months. Please provide us with a copy of the Order purporting to do so. Please confirm where you believe the power to do so in law exists. We can see no such power in law and therefore the extension like the original appointment is illegal and thus null and void. The shareholders are therefore at liberty to appoint a committee in the usual manner. If you disagree with our interpretation of the situation please set out a detailed legal explanation with statutory and/or case law references to back up your stance for our consideration. Your failure to do so may be founded upon.

To date my request has been ignored by them.

However, the recent massive U-turn by the Crofting Commission on Mangersta and the stepping down from ‘office’ of the ‘Grazings Constable’ is as good an admission as any that they did indeed get the law wrong.

That ‘Grazings Constable’ should never have been there in the first place and should not have been allowed to carry on, in any circumstances, beyond the initial ‘appointment’.

Brian Inkster

Image Credit: Carry on Constable © Anglo-Amalgamated Productions / StudioCanal

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.

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.

Future of Crofting Conference in Tweets

Future of Crofting Conference - Jean Urquhart MSPI was live tweeting from @croftinglaw yesterday at The Future of Crofting Conference in Inverness. Here is what I tweeted:-

The Future of Crofting Conference gets underway #croftingfuture

Future of Crofting Conference gets underway

Importance of crofting to the economy and need for practical measures to assist being espoused by @JamieMcGrigor #croftingfuture

We can now see but not hear @AileenMcLeodMSP. Technical issues with video sound hopefully be resolved shortly! #croftingfuture

We now have @AileenMcLeodMSP on screen both vision and sound. #croftingfuture

Hearing about @AileenMcLeodMSP’s visits around Crofting Counties (including Orkney and Shetland) and visits to @CroftingScot #croftingfuture

Meant to tweet a pic of @AileenMcLeodMSP at #croftingfuture conference. Here it is:

Aileen McLeod at Future of Crofting Conference

Now hearing from @AileenMcLeodMSP about the Vision for Crofting being formulated by various stakeholder groups #croftingfuture

Discussion by @AileenMcLeodMSP about @CroftingLawSump and taking crofting legislation forward in next parliamentary session #croftingfuture

Importance of young crofters being highlighted by @AileenMcLeodMSP #croftingfuture

Reference by @JamieMcGrigor to @AileenMcLeodMSP being an early SPICE girl! #croftingfuture

Next up @MarkShucksmith #croftingfuture

Crofting “a smallholding entirely surrounded by regulations… OR a model for the 21st century?” @MarkShucksmith #croftingfuture

Four main issues emerged from @MarkShucksmith’s report #croftingfuture

Mark Shucksmith - four main crofting issues

Working the land was the message @MarkShucksmith got over and over again #croftingfuture

Key diagram for better governance @MarkShucksmith #croftingfuture

Mark Shucksmith - Key Crofting Diagram for Better Governance

Regulation half the story need development @MarkShucksmith #croftingfuture

Early cross party support but that turned by some into bin @MarkShucksmith #croftingfuture

Bin @MarkShucksmith’s Report image #croftingfuture:

Mark Shucksmith - Bin the Crofting Report Campaign

Unfinished business @MarkShucksmith #croftingfuture

Mark Shucksmith - Unfinished Crofting Business

Evidence from @MarkShucksmith’s Report still there but does anyone refer to it today? Should still do so when considering #croftingfuture

Report by @MarkShucksmith been translated into Japanese. Norway, Ireland and West Virginia all looking at it. #croftingfuture

Introduction given by @iangeorgemacdo1 in Gaelic. Now speaking (in English) about the ‘new’ Crofting Commission #croftingfuture

Latest @CroftingScot Plan more fully aligned with legislation @iangeorgemacdo1 #croftingfuture perhaps depending on your interpretation 😉

Large amount of cooperation with @coftingscot at roadshows from all stakeholders #croftingfuture

5 main areas to focus on in #croftingfuture….

1. Simplify crofting legislation #croftingfuture

2. Make crofts available to new entrants #croftingfuture

3. Increase affordable housing with meaningful grants and loans #croftingfuture

4. Provide specific ring fenced funding to a lead body to develop crofting #croftingfuture

5. Provide financial incentives through Pillars 1 and 2 #croftingfuture

RT @culcairn Mr Inksters addressing conference #croftingfuture

Future of Crofting Conference - Brian Inkster - The Sump

View from the fank: Young crofters need help with housing and crofters need less forms to fill out. #croftingfuture

Strong sense at #croftingfuture conference that croft mortgages should have been introduced in 2010 Act as originally intended. @scotgov

Get @BillGates to come to crofting counties + use renewable energy on crofts to power @Microsoft servers located in Scotland #croftingfuture

Prof @FrankRennie‘s #croftingfuture presentation ‘The Wider Cultural Context’ is available here:

Now Neil Ross of HIE on Crofting development #croftingfuture

Importance of working together – collaboration #croftingfuture

Future of Crofting Conference - Neil Ross - Collaboration

Now discussing wooly willows in species re-introductions to Scotland #croftingfuture

Panel discussion on crofting development #croftingfuture

Future of Crofting Conference - Panel on Development

More crofts needed #croftingfuture – perhaps reallocating absent and neglected crofts first rather than creating more that may go that way?

How do you actually bring crofting to Moray and Nairnshire? #croftingfuture – no easy answer to that one!

RT @kate4SLB Great quote at #futureofcrofting ‘should do away with the word ‘remote’ – anywhere outside the Highlands is remote for us!’

Only crofters themselves and those that aspire to be crofters can drive the future of crofting @JimHunter22 #croftingfuture

Can buy 200,000 acres of land in Sutherland and no regulation affecting it but not the case with a 5 acre croft @JimHunter22 #croftingfuture

Land Reform the elephant in the room. Crofting not a poor man’s farm. Need to know what we want, clarify that + move forward #croftingfuture

#croftingfuture afternoon session opened and to be facilitated by @JeanUrquhartMSP

Gordon Jackson of @scotgov now looking at the Vision #croftingfuture

Future of Crofting Conference - Gordon Jackson - Vision

Average age of a farmer = 58. Crofter probably a bit higher. #croftingfuture

Hearing about croftingconnections.com -exemplary and of national importance #croftingfuture

Now hearing about @SCFYC #croftingfuture

View from the fank on #croftingfuture is an optimistic one.

Final panel Q&A of the day at #croftingfuture

Future of Crofting Conference - Final Panel Session

Landlords who created crofts made them too small to force crofters into other work as well @JimHunter22 #croftingfuture

Very positive to hear young folk positive about the future of crofting @JimHunter22 #croftingfuture

Need to expand @WoodlandCrofts being discussed #croftingfuture

Commitment from @SCFHq to help create new crofts #croftingfuture

Can create new crofts from large ones. One big croft could be divided into several smaller ones. #croftingfuture

Best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago. Second best time is today. @JeanUrquhartMSP recommends we take action asap #croftingfuture

RT @SCFYC “Let’s not stand back & watch while crofting disappears, we are a vital part of agriculture in Scotland” – Jean Urquhart MSP

#croftingfuture conference comes to an end. Interesting day and look forward to @scotgov action on @CroftingLawSump in 2016.

Brian Inkster