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Volume 405: debated on Tuesday 20 May 2003

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The Advocate-General was asked



What devolution issues have been raised since 8 April. [113337]


What devolution issues she has dealt with since 8 April. [113338]

Since 8 April, 39 devolution issues have been intimated to me. They concerned a range of matters including delay in criminal proceedings, solitary confinement under the prison rules, offences that involve the narration of previous convictions, the requirement on the defence to lodge notice of intention to lead sexual history evidence in trials, and the use of evidence from now-deceased witnesses.

The Advocate-General will be aware that in my constituency there is a great deal of interest locally in the position of udal law, particularly as it relates to ownership and control of the seabed. That has led to the establishment of a website, Has the hon. and learned Lady considered the position of udal law in relation to the seabed, and if not, will she do so, and offer appropriate advice to her Government colleagues?

I remember being taught about udal law at university, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman was. No doubt it has come in extremely useful to his constituents. He raises an important matter. Udal law has an important history in the Orkney and Shetland isles, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, with his legal background and training in a Scottish university, will be of great use to his constituents in that regard. With respect to the specific reservation in the Scotland Act, udal law is not reserved. I do not know whether I am pleased about that or not. In general, land law is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I enter the usual caveat: it all depends on the specific circumstances of the problem raised. Obviously, individual property owners must take legal advice on the extent of their own proprietorial interests.

I should be grateful if my hon. and learned Friend could explain the basis for the requirement on the defence to lodge a notice of intention to discuss sexual histories in trials.

A new requirement was introduced by the Scottish Parliament in the Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence)(Scotland) Act 2002. As a result of that Act, a number of devolution issues have been intimated to me. I mentioned one of them in my answer a moment ago. As yet, there has been no authoritative determination of the point that was challenged. I undertake to keep my hon. Friend advised when there is such a decision.

Human Rights


What issues relating to human rights she has considered since 8 April. [113340]

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply I gave some moments ago to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael).

Will my hon. and learned Friend get together with the Attorney-General and the Foreign Office lawyers to consider the legal situation of two groups of people: Iraqi diplomats like Dr. Amin, who may have done nothing wrong, and is paid by nobody, with family consequences; and those like Tariq Aziz, who may have done a great deal that is wrong, but are nevertheless entitled to some kind of trial? We had better be careful about victors' justice.

I thank my hon. Friend for his advice. The general matters that he raises are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I am sure my hon. Friend will find an appropriate opportunity to raise the matter directly. As regards meetings with the Attorney-General, my hon. Friend is aware that the matters that we discuss are generally confidential.



What devolution issues have been raised since 8 April. [113341]

Again, I refer the hon. Lady to the reply that I gave some moments ago to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael).

What difference does the Advocate-General believe her office has made in furthering the interests of the Scottish legal system and, indeed, the Scottish people, during the last couple of months?

It is important that the devolution settlement works well in legal terms. As the hon. Lady knows, one of my statutory functions is to look at Scottish Parliament legislation and deal with challenges to the acts of Scottish Ministers. I do so with the interests of the UK Government in mind, but it is in the interests of the UK Government, the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people that the legal boundaries are properly dealt with. I try to do that as best I can.