Tag Archives: Derek Flyn

6 out of 10 to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee

Strictly Come Dancing 2012The Summary by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee on their Stage 1 Report formed the last post on this blog. I will now give my views on that Report.

10 Points

The Committee get 10 points out of 10 from me for acknowledging “the considerable body of opinion, particularly from the legal profession, expressing the view that the Bill as drafted is unnecessarily complex and, in places, requires amendment in order to avoid further difficulties in legal interpretation in the future.” This is something that Paul Wheelhouse MSP has, so far, failed to recognise. In the evidence gathering session by the Committee on 22 May he said:-

…the legal team has worked extremely hard to ensure that the bill is consistent with the measures in respect of tenant crofters. There are different ways to draft a bill, but we are not aware of any defects at this stage.

Many potential defects had, by that stage, been identified in the submissions made by myself, Sir Crispin Agnew QC, Derek Flyn and others. Paul Wheelhouse MSP may be turning a blind eye to these but it is good to see that the Committee is not. Indeed, the Committee went as far as to state that:-

…it strongly recommends that the Scottish Government carefully considers any amendments which may be required to the Bill at Stage 2 to allow for full scrutiny (seeking information, evidence and advice on any legal issues as appropriate) to ensure that the Bill is clear and competent and does not add further complexity to an already complex body of legislation, or have the potential to give rise to further unintended consequences.

Let’s hope that the amendments that do need to be made are indeed made at Stage 2.

Another 10 points for the Committee for highlighting that other problems exist with crofting law that need to be fixed. As they said:-

The Committee notes the significant number of other outstanding issues relating to crofting many believe require to be addressed by the Scottish Government following the conclusion of consideration of this Bill by Parliament.

With the Committee going on to ask:-

… the Scottish Government to identify how it intends to address the other issues within crofting law which were brought to the Committee’s attention during its scrutiny of the Bill and to inform the Committee of how it intends to proceed. The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government indicates how it intends to address the wider criticisms that have been made, particularly by the legal profession, of the current state of crofting law as a whole.

I, as I am sure other crofting lawyers do, look forward to hearing what the Scottish Government will be doing about the general crofting law mess.

5 out of 10

The Committee, to give them their due, highlight my point about there being no place for new law in the Bill by quoting a section of my submissions on this point:-

The proposed new section 24C(2) to the 1993 Act appears to be new law in that I cannot see why the existing section 25(1)(b) cannot equally apply as it stands to owner-occupied crofts. There should be no place for new law in the Bill rather than a necessary fix of existing legislation. Any new law requires careful consideration and should not be rushed through as part of this particular legislative process. Thus I would submit that the proposed new section 24C(2) should be removed from the Bill.

They go on to state:-

…the Committee notes that a number of issues have been raised regarding the drafting of this section of the Bill, particularly with regard to the definition of a “decrofting direction”; the new section 24(C) which the Bill would insert into the 1993 Act; and the protecting of access to crofting land. The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government gives careful consideration to these specific issues ahead of Stage 2.

This is good. But a general declaration that the Scottish Government should not be creating new crofting law by virtue of the Bill but simply fixing the perceived ‘flaw’ created by the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 would have been better. Furthermore, I made the same point in my submissions about the proposed new section 24D(3) to the 1993 Act. However, that seems to have been overlooked by the Committee.

Nul Points

Nul points for RACCE CommitteeThe Committee fell down, in my eyes, in certain areas where they achieve ‘nul points’. A number of submissions had raised the spectre of problems with decrofting by owner-occupiers who are not “owner-occupier crofters”. The Committee, to give them their due, did highlight the issue but unfortunately did not recognise the real significance of it. They said:-

The definition of what legally constitutes an owner-occupier crofter, and issues facing multiple owners of distinct parts of the same croft, seem, from the evidence submitted, to be the most pressing. However, the Committee is of the view that this Bill is not the appropriate place to seek to address such issues, given the urgency of the current problem, and the expedited process that is being sought to try and rectify the situation as soon as possible.

I would suggest, as I have previously, that leaving 700 owner-occupiers who are not “owner-occupier crofters” in decrofting limbo is a significant issue and one that could and should have been dealt with in the current Bill. There is also the ‘alien owner-occupier‘ issue that came to light after the date for receipt of submissions had closed. Notwithstanding that fact it was still brought to the attention of Committee members but unfortunately they did not consider it in their Stage 1 Report.

The impact of putting off dealing with these issues may only become fully apparent when the current Bill is enacted and it becomes clear that decrofting is still being prevented in situations where it simply should not be. Will we see, sooner rather than later, a Crofting (Amendment No. 2) (Scotland) Bill to resolve the plight of the 700 owner-occupiers who are being discriminated against by virtue of the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill?

Overall Score

So with some 10 points, 5 points and ‘nul points’ I would, on balance, give the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee 6 out of 10 for their Stage 1 Report. They could have done better. However, no doubt they could have done worse.

Brian Inkster

[Picture Credits: Strictly Come Dancing © BBC (Photographer: Guy Levy) and Engelbert Humperdinck – Eurovision Song Contest 2012 © BBC]

Decrofting Spin

Decrofting SpinPoliticians are good at spinning. No exception when it comes to crofting law.

At the evidence gathering session on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill by the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee on 22 May, Paul Wheelhouse MSP stated:-

The existing legislation clearly does not work as it was intended to do. Although some crofting lawyers, such as Brian Inkster, disagree, the concern that I have expressed is shared by others including Sir Crispin Agnew and Derek Flyn. The Commission’s legal advice appears to have drawn the same conclusion.

Not quite correct. As blogged about previously on this blog at the evidence gathering session by the same Committee on 15 May, Sir Crispin Agnew QC said:-

I think that the Bill will solve the particular problem by making it clear that the Crofting Commission can decroft owner-occupier crofts. Brian Inkster might well be right but Derek Flyn might well be right that he is wrong. Until a case has gone to the Land Court and it has made a determination, it is sensible to clarify the situation for the avoidance of doubt.

Sir Crispin did not therefore pass any opinion on whether the existing legislation worked as it was intended to do. He remained neutral on that point but was of the view that given the confusion surrounding the issue it was sensible to clarify it by way of amending legislation. On that point Sir Crispin, Derek Flyn and I are all in agreement. The challenge for Paul Wheelhouse is to deliver such amending legislation that does indeed work without leaving any further confusion. Let’s hope he concentrates on that and not on the spin.

Brian Inkster

[Picture Credit: Rainbow Humming Spinning Top from PoshTotty Designs]

Are owner-occupier crofters a sub-set of owner-occupiers?

Are owner-occupier crofters a subset of owner-occupiers?

Are they really crofters?

At the evidence taking session on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill on 15th May the Convenor, Rob Gibson MSP, asked whether there were any views on my argument that the Bill is not needed?

Richard Frew stated:-

Yes—we have considered Brian Inkster’s view. It is not surprising that different people reach different conclusions on the issue, as a number of people who are involved in this have done. It is clear to us that, although that issue is worth considering, section 23(10) of the 1993 Act clearly sets out that a croft is not vacant if an owner-occupier crofter is on the croft.

Unfortunately, Richard Frew ignores any exploration of section 23(12A) of the 1993 Act but there again that has been a continual failing of both the Crofting Commission and the Scottish Government throughout this process. However, Derek Flyn took up the cudgel on section 23(12A):-

When I brought the matter to the Crofting Commission’s attention, Brian Inkster’s response was pretty immediate. However, having looked very closely at the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993, as amended, I think that he has missed one thing. The requirement for an owner-occupier to report to the Commission within a month of becoming an owner-occupier is contained in section 23(12) of the 1993 Act, but there is also section 23(12A), which seems to talk about an owner-occupier crofter as a subset of owner-occupiers.

I am sorry—I realise that the issue is complicated, and I know that most people’s eyes glaze over when I start to talk about it. The point is that owner-occupiers are not entitled to occupy their crofts, which can therefore be held to be vacant, and they can be asked to take tenants. However, owner-occupier crofters are entitled to occupy their crofts and must intimate to the Commission the fact that they are owner-occupier crofters. Instead of their being persons who have to give notice, they are persons who give notice as owner-occupiers as well as intimating the fact that they are owner-occupier crofters. I think that Brian Inkster has missed the fact that owner-occupier crofters are a subset of owner-occupiers. The matter is very complicated but, having looked at it many times since Christmas, I cannot see how one can be persuaded that an owner-occupier crofter could have a vacant croft.

The two things that are needed for decrofting are an application by a landlord or landowner and a vacant croft. Although an owner-occupier crofter could be seen as a landlord under the legislation, he certainly could not have a vacant croft.

If your eyes have not glazed over and you are still reading this then I do not believe that owner-occupier crofters are a sub-set of owner-occupiers. Indeed to the contrary an owner-occupier crofter appears to have received special status by way of the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 setting them into a category of their own that is very distinct from owner-occupiers. You need look no further than the current controversy over problems associated with applications to decroft by owner-occupiers as opposed to by owner-occupier crofters.

Section 23(12A) is one of those deeming provisions in the 1993 Act which often seem to cause difficulties in understanding and interpretation. It quite simply deems an owner-occupier crofter to have a vacant croft for the purposes of decrofting under section 24(3) of the 1993 Act. If that is not the purpose and intent of section 23(12A) what does that section actually do and why was it introduced by the 2010 Act?

However, as Sir Crispin Agnew QC diplomatically put it:-

I think that the Bill will solve the particular problem by making it clear that the Crofting Commission can decroft owner-occupier crofts. Brian Inkster might well be right but Derek Flyn might well be right that he is wrong. Until a case has gone to the Land Court and it has made a determination, it is sensible to clarify the situation for the avoidance of doubt.

That is indeed where we are at and we shouldn’t, at the moment, whilst some redrafting of the Bill is necessary and hopefully in hand, spend much time debating whether or not the Bill was necessary. There may be a place for a post mortem after the Bill becomes an Act to see if things could have been done differently by the Crofting Commission and or the Scottish Government when the ‘problem’ first manifested itself. From that lessons may be learned for the future to hopefully avoid such a situation arising again.

[NB: This blog post forms part of Submissions (Part 3) by Brian Inkster on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. See Crofting is not a perfect world and The Crofting Law Hydra which both also form part of those Submissions (Part 3). In addition see Submissions (Part 1): A Sledge Hammer to Crack a Nut; and Submissions (Part 2): An Alternative Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill]

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