A large number of individuals and informed stakeholders with expert knowledge took part in the consultation. Together, these responses provided a useful evidence base of diverse perspectives for the Scottish Government to draw upon when developing the final Bill.
While there was support for the proposals, a significant proportion of respondents, particularly individuals, opposed any extension of temporary powers. Consistent reasons for this were raised across consultation questions. Respondents raised concerns about an undemocratic overreach of government power which many felt breached human rights. Others believed the pandemic was not a justifiable reason for either introducing or prolonging emergency powers, with calls for Scotland to ‘return to normal’.
Proposals on closing educational establishments and enacting public health protection regulations elicited a range of views. Many doubted the effectiveness of these measures in controlling Covid and were concerned about the harm that restrictions have caused to education, physical and mental health, and the economy. However, those who supported extension or permanence of the measures felt they would help the Scottish Government act more quickly in response to any future public health emergencies. While some respondents favoured virtual public meetings because they could widen access, several raised concerns about digital exclusion, whereby individuals lacking the necessary technology, skills or internet connectivity would be unable to attend or contribute.
Modernisation, efficiency and flexibility were themes expressed by those who endorsed extending provisions for public services and justice proceedings to be carried out through remote, virtual or electronic means. For example, proposals for remote registration of births and deaths were seen to offer a more streamlined process, particularly for those in remote, rural and island areas. However, concerns about digital exclusion, security and restricted public access to hearings were raised consistently. Many respondents supported provisions being made permanent under hybrid systems where the option to conduct proceedings in-person is retained.
The provision for tenancies and protection against eviction attracted many responses. Several welcomed the measures, noting they strengthen tenants’ rights and offer a layer of protection against eviction and homelessness. However, others felt the provisions would have a negative impact on private landlords and could risk driving them out of the market, potentially resulting in a shortage of affordable accommodation for rent.
Views on virtual court attendance were mixed; while noting benefits, several questioned the effectiveness of virtual hearings and highlighted the potential for discrimination. While some other justice measures were supported due to the practical value they offer if the pandemic continues, concerns over their appropriateness were evident. Respondents felt some provisions, in particular the early release of prisoners and expiry of undertaking provisions, could diminish the justice system.
Overall, the key message from consultation respondents was that decisions to extend the temporary measures should be made with careful consideration. Doing so will ensure that Scotland moves towards a fair, safe and secure recovery from the pandemic.
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