3.1 The Scottish and UK Parliaments
The Scottish and UK Parliaments are major sources of law in Scotland. They create new laws, reform and repeal existing laws and codify existing laws in their areas of legislative competence.
One of the ways in which parliaments respond to changes in society or the demands of society is by creating new legislation. You explored the processes through which draft legislation goes and learnt about the process of scrutiny in earlier weeks on this course. On occasion, as a response to public pressures, scientific or other developments, legislation may be passed very quickly. Whilst this may seem to have benefits in that politicians can be seen to be doing something it can also have unintended consequences and the legislation may be prone to interpretation.
You have learnt that there are Parliamentary processes which have been designed to ensure the technical quality of legislation (you explored the ‘good’ law project in Week 5) and that effective parliamentary scrutiny is maintained. Legislation should also be proportionate, justified and transparent. It should uphold constitutional rights and abide by the rule of law.
However, there are occasions when emergencies arise and it may not be feasible for the full process to be used. In the Scottish Parliament there is an emergency bill procedure that enables the fast tracking of legislation. Procedural rules provide guidance on the scrutiny to be undertaken and the Bill (unless the parliament agrees otherwise) must be accompanied by the usual accompanying notes. In this way, if necessary, legislation can be passed in a day. In the UK Parliament there is also a fast track procedure where legislation can go through the House of Commons stages in one day. These fast track procedures have been used for a number of reasons, for example, economic reasons, terrorism, closing legal loop holes, responding to public concerns or court judgments.
Activity 3 now asks you to think about examples that you may have come across where the law has been changed as a result of public pressure.
Activity 3 Law reform and public pressure
Can you think of any examples where Parliament changed the law in response to public or media pressure? Using your own experiences, can you identify any examples of a situation when Parliament reacted to public pressure to change what was considered unlawful conduct?
You may have thought of many laws introduced by Parliament in response to an emergency or crisis. Acts of Parliament which were introduced in response to national emergencies or crises include:
- The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 – Introduced to respond to the new situation arising from the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001.
- The Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 – Introduced in response to a ‘breakthrough’ by US scientists in creating human embryo clones.
- The Animal Health Act 2002 – Introduced in response to the foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2001.
- The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 – Introduced to respond to ‘radicalised’ Britons travelling to Syria.
- The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 – introduced following campaigns against online ‘revenge porn’.
Some legal commentators see the growth and development of the law as reflecting particular phases and trends in social history as written by the mass media and politicians. Activity 3 helps illustrate this.