Emergency coronavirus Bill passes Holyrood

1 April 2020, 20:34

Indycamp court case
Indycamp court case. Picture: PA

The Bill was passed unanimously by MSPs.

MSPs have voted to pass the Scottish Government’s emergency legislation on coronavirus.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously at Holyrood in a near-11 hour sitting which lasted until 8pm on Wednesday.

The Bill seeks to make changes to the justice system, including the possibility of the release of some prisoners if Covid-19 causes issues in the prison service, rental sector and the functioning of public bodies to deal with the pandemic.

The Scottish Government were twice forced to make concessions throughout the day on the legislation, with a measure to make the most serious legal cases go ahead without a jury dropped and an extension to the Freedom of Information deadline amended.

Police Scotland funding
The Justice Secretary has confirmed plans to bring back legislation after the Easter recess (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf pledged to bring a standalone Bill to the Parliament on its first day back after the Easter recess to replace the controversial measure, but added in the final leg of the debate that serious cases, referred to as solemn cases, could be scrapped for the duration of the pandemic.

Constitution Secretary Mike Russell, who introduced the legislation, said it was not a Bill he would celebrate the passage of.

He told MSPs: “I don’t express any pleasure in having spent this day passing this Bill, it would have been far better if none of us had been called to do so.

“But we have been and we’ve had to face up to our responsibilities.”

Mr Russell added: “We have a job, as leaders, political leaders, leaders in our community, to encourage, to support, to guide, to legislate and at the end of the day to work alongside our fellow citizens so that we can come through this challenge together.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said the possible removal of trial by jury had “caused a great deal of concern”.

With Mr Yousaf having pledged to consult others on possible alternatives, the Tory said: “I hope this Government does some serious work on this, and we don’t find ourselves back here in three weeks facing the same proposal.”

However the Justice Secretary warned the only alternative might be to suspend trials for more serious offences.

He said: “We may get to a position where we may have make a choice between going down the route that was suggested today, and if not we may have to go down the route of halting solemn proceedings altogether, until public health guidelines allow jury trials to take place.”

Other MSPs used their speeches to thank those continuing to work throughout the crisis, providing frontline public services.

Labour’s Alex Rowley said this group had been hit hard by 10 years of austerity, adding: “It is those very public services that are now being expected to be on the front line… that will need support at this time of great crisis.

“We should all be thinking about those frontline workers.”

Scottish Green MSP John Finnie described the Bill overall as being a “proportionate” response to the Covid-19 crisis.

He hailed the “ordinary people” helping in the response to the disease, praising “the people who drive our buses, the people who clean our hospitals, our shop workers”.

Mr Finnie said: “There is maybe hope going forward that there is a greater level of appreciation (of them).”

Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton said the ditching of plans to end jury trials had shown “that Parliament still matters”.

He added: “That is a really important message to send out to the people we all represent, that even at a time  of crisis we still have a functioning legislature which knows how to exercise its function.”

By Press Association

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