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The Scottish Parliament and law making
The Scottish Parliament and law making

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1 Why law changes

One of the most important functions of any legal system is to state the laws by which the society in which it exists is to operate. Society does not remain static so the legal system and the laws it produces need to be relevant in order to be effective. Laws need to respond to social, economic, technological, moral and political change by evolving as those changes emerge.

Activity 1 Why change?

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

What new law would you introduce to improve life in the society in which you live? Write a short paragraph (no more than 150 words) outlining what law you would like to see introduced and arguing in favour of this law.

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What new law did you think of? Would your suggested law be responding to a technological development, change in the social or moral climate, or to economic conditions?

There are an endless number of suggestions that could be made and these will reflect your own circumstances and views. Here are some suggestions the course team came up with:

  • New laws to make businesses responsible for protecting human rights and the environment wherever they operate would make a difference in Scotland and all over the world. This would mean that multinational companies would have to meet basic social and environmental standards no matter where they were operating.
  • New laws in relation to bullying and abuse over the internet.
  • New laws to make companies disclose and be transparent as to what data is collected, where it is stored and held and how it is used.
  • New laws on organ donation.

These suggestions are responding to social, moral, economic and technological developments.

As technology develops it becomes easier and more profitable for multinational companies to set up in developing countries and take advantage of cheap labour and a lack of environmental legislation. Growing social awareness of the injustice this can cause and the damage to the environment that can result indicates the need for a new law.

Greater use of technology is changing behaviour. Abuse and bullying on social media websites is common but prosecution is rare. Many individuals don’t read the several pages of information which internet companies use to obtain consent before they allow them to proceed and use the application, and those pages are often written in technical legal language. There has been a long battle for greater consumer rights in areas such as loan agreements and faulty goods. But this is not yet being transferred to the online environment. While concerns over privacy and use of data are often expressed, and laws criminalising certain online behaviours exist, protections in this area could be broadened.

In relation to organ donation different systems and expectations now exist in the UK. Organ donation touches upon social, moral, economic and technological developments. Wales was the first nation to introduce an opt-out system – a system of deemed consent with the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 (anaw 5). Similar legislation is now being drafted in Scotland.

You will now consider how laws can change and how you could become involved in the process. As you work through the next sections think about what would be the best way of achieving the law reform which you suggested in Activity 1 and what obstacles there may be to your proposal.