Tag Archives: mess

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

Crofting Gobbledygook

Scottish Land Court

Will the Scottish Land Court have to decipher the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2013?

The Scottish Parliament has voted to pass the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. In due course, it will receive Royal Assent. Owner-occupier crofters will be able to decroft, and the Scottish Government will breathe a sigh of relief that the decrofting debacle has been buried.   However, this bill has been far from the Scottish Government’s finest hour. The bill has added a further layer of complexity to a legislative framework I have previously, publicly, labelled a mess and a shambles. The Act will result in the Crofting Commission processing applications once again, but the decrofting provisions are now so incomprehensible that it can only be a matter of time before they are challenged in the Courts. Then we shall hear accusations that solicitors are getting fat on the ever-diminishing bank accounts of crofters.  The time and effort taken by myself and by other professionals in this field indicate that we have an interest in clarifying legislation to avoid crofters facing high legal costs. Yet the Scottish Government saw fit to ignore all submissions and suggestions, however helpful they may have been. The quality and clarity of the Bill could have been far improved, had the Scottish Government accepted help from those best placed to provide it. Sooner or later, we will all simply stop responding to consultations and will have no heart to contribute to the parliamentary process.

Furthermore, this Bill has given birth to a fresh debate over wider crofting legislation. I have long been of the view that crofting legislation should be left alone for a time, to bed in, and to allow a body of case law to become established. However, in light of the 2013 Bill I have changed my view, and I have called for an overhaul of all crofting legislation. The numerous problems which have become apparent with the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, coupled with the prospect of yet more impenetrable sections (when a few simple sections would have achieved the same effect), made me despair that the current framework could ever work. There are simply too many problems to overcome; the decrofting uncertainty was merely the tip of the iceberg. I do not suggest another evidence-gathering committee in the mould of Professor Shucksmith, but it is both possible and desirable to deconstruct the legislation and rebuild it so that it makes sense and is, to use a phrase so beloved of government, ‘fit for purpose’.

Rob Gibson MSP appeared to have taken offence at my labelling of the legislation as a “mess” and a “shambles” but I stand by my remarks, and I refute his comment that crofting law is merely “complex”. Most areas of law are complex, and solicitors are trained to operate in such an environment, but crofting law since the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 – which his Government must take responsibility for and cannot be blamed on inheritance – has become incomprehensible, not merely complex. I urge Mr Gibson to listen to the suggestions offered by experienced professionals, rather than taking the defensive stance we saw in the debating chamber yesterday afternoon.

Eilidh I. M. Ross

The Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 is a mess

Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 is a mess

Crofting law may be as messy but not as tasty as eton mess!

Submissions by Eilidh I. M. Ross on the Crofting (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill

The perceived need for, and the technical detail of, the draft Crofting Amendment Bill has been covered by my colleague Brian Inkster in his own submission, which I fully support.

For my own part, I will make a few comments on the limitations of the draft bill, and the need for further, radical, improvement of crofting legislation. I note the Scottish Government’s position that the bill will only be used to address one of the specific (perceived) problems with decrofting of owner-occupier crofts by owner-occupier crofters, namely the issue of whether such crofts can ever be vacant.

Not only are there many anomalies, hiccups, and unforeseen consequences of the provisions currently contained in the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1993 caused by the Crofting Reform (Scotland) Act 2010, but the 1993 Act itself is, in my view, a mess.

Matters are now to be exacerbated by the addition of yet another layer of incomprehensible extra sections and consequential amendments to an Act which was consolidated 20 years ago, and which has been (badly) amended numerous times. If the Act which my fellow crofting solicitors and I work with on a daily basis, and on which we must advise our clients, is in such a poor state of repair, that has serious implications for our profession (not to mention for crofters and landlords).

It is, in my view, now imperative that further steps are taken by the Government to address the wider problems of the 1993 Act. Further amendment is not sufficient, nor even perhaps consolidation, if that would not result in an act which was understandable. The Government know what people want from crofting legislation (that was established by Mark Shucksmith quite recently and, although some do not support his findings, I am not aware of calls for a new committee of enquiry), and the 1993 Act tries to achieve those objectives that but fails in almost countless ways. The Act should be deconstructed and then redrafted in a way which is simple, understandable, and which clearly sets out the rights and obligations of all those whom it regulates (and affects in other ways).

The crofting act is important not simply from a historical perspective (although in my view that element is important); it is an essential part of the economic and social fabric of the Highlands and Islands and it is simply not acceptable that the legislative framework which supports that system is such a shambles. It is now incumbent upon the Scottish Government, once this single problem amongst many has been addressed (albeit in my view doing so complicates matters still further), to address the 1993 Act without delay. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of the crofting system as a legal entity depends upon it.

Eilidh I. M. Ross

[Picture Credit: Channel 4: Very messy Eton mess recipe]