The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Bill ("the Bill") is the latest in a line of legislation introduced by the Scottish Government in light of the public health emergency.
Legislation has also been introduced by the UK Government. The Bill, which is yet to complete all of its parliamentary stages, has a number of key provisions.
The Bill would introduce a 7-day notice period for student accommodation to enable students affected by Coronavirus to terminate their accommodation agreements early. Similarly, the Bill would introduce provision for a 28-day notice period for agreements entered into by students on or after 6 April 2020. This would mean that students could secure accommodation for the 2020-2021 term in the knowledge that, if they were not able to take up their accommodation due to Coronavirus, they would not be liable to make rental payments for the full term of their agreement.
Criminal and civil justice
The Bill would make numerous changes to the criminal and civil justice system, designed to allow the wheels of justice to continue to turn during the public health emergency. Several statutory timelines would be extended, such as those for the payment of confiscation orders. Provision is also made in the Bill to facilitate additional virtual court hearings. Certain court hearings have already taken place virtually. In addition, provision is made for documents which would ordinarily be published in court buildings to be published online instead.
Registered Social Landlords
The Bill would increase the time a Registered Social Landlord ("RSL") has to submit accounts to the Scottish Housing Regulator to nine months. Ordinarily, such accounts have to be submitted within six months of a RSL's financial-year end. This may relieve concerns about resource shortages and where RSLs are unable to hold meetings remotely either because they do not have the practical means or because their rules do not permit remote meetings.
Registers of Scotland
Provision was already made in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 for the ongoing functioning of land registration in Scotland. Difficulties had arisen in that regard due to the need for paper-based applications to register. The Bill would introduce new provision to facilitate the operation of two further registers, the Register of Inhibitions and the Register of Judgments, which have been similarly impacted by the need for paper-based applications. The former register records legal impediments to the transfer of houses and other similar property, while the latter facilitates international recognition of judicial decisions.
There are many other provisions in the Bill, that address a a wide variety of issues. They include provision for additional payment for recipients of Carers' Allowance, changes to bankruptcy provisions to support debtors, changes to certain witnessing requirements in cases relating to mental capacity, a relaxation of reporting obligations related to climate change, and extensions to periods for rebates related to The Land and Buildings Transaction Tax Additional Dwelling Supplement.
The Bill has not yet become law and may be the subject of amendment by MSPs. In particular, opposition politicians are seeking to amend the Bill to reimpose freedom of information obligations on certain Scottish public authorities and to extend protections for private residential tenants who may find themselves in difficulty as a result of Coronavirus.