Article 15: Equality before the law and civil matters
1. States Parties shall accord to women equality with men before the law.
2. States Parties shall accord to women, in civil matters, a legal capacity identical to that of men and the same opportunities to exercise that capacity. In particular, they shall give women equal rights to conclude contracts and to administer property and shall treat them equally in all stages of procedure in courts and tribunals.
3. States Parties agree that all contracts and all other private instruments of any kind with a legal effect which is directed at restricting the legal capacity of women shall be deemed null and void.
4. States Parties shall accord to men and women the same rights with regard to the law relating to the movement of persons and the freedom to choose their residence and domicile.
15.1 Employment tribunal fees
The Scottish Government wants all employers to adopt fair working practices but where this doesn't happen workers should have fair access to justice. The 2015 Programme for Government committed to abolishing the fees in Scotland when the management and operation of employment tribunals were devolved; the Scottish Government is delighted that in 2017 the UK Supreme Court ruled employment tribunal fees to be unlawful. The Scottish Government will continue to work with stakeholders, to ensure that the new employment tribunal system in Scotland provides access to justice and contributes to the Scottish Government's vision for Fair Work to be embedded in all workplaces in Scotland.
15.2 Legal Aid
The Scottish Government is committed to protecting access to justice by ensuring legal aid is available to those who need it most. Changes to Legal Aid eligibility in England and Wales are not reflected in the Scottish system.
Scottish Government provides funding for the Scottish Women's Rights Centre - a resource to ensure that women in Scotland who have or are experiencing gender based violence are able to access timely and appropriate legal advice and information. Access to legal advice is recognised as an important tool in improving the outcomes for women who have been affected by gender based violence. A woman contacting the Centre will either be assisted to access other models of support, advocacy and legal services that exist, or taken on as a client if she fits within one of the targeted legal objectives the centre has set itself. The Scottish Women's Rights Centre has an Advisory Group which has partners such as the European Human Rights Centre and Scottish Women's Aid.
Additional resources have been provided to the Scottish Women's Rights Centre to significantly increase direct legal support in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and, for the first time, Dundee and the Highlands. This is part of a larger area of work under the Equally Safe strategy which recognises that widening access to specialist support such as legal advice is an important tool in ensuring the victims of gender based violence can effectively represent their interests in any resultant legal matters in the appropriate forums.
15.3 Corroboration Reform
The Scottish Government proposed abolishing the corroboration requirement in all criminal proceedings in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. Part of the intention behind this was to improve access to justice for victims of crimes committed in private. There was however some concern that additional safeguards and changes to law and practice may be needed to the criminal justice system following the planned abolition of the corroboration requirement. Lord Bonomy was therefore appointed to head an independent review to consider what changes might be necessary. One of the recommendations from the review was that jury research should be undertaken. The Scottish Government recently announced that the contract for taking forward this research has been awarded to Ipsos Mori. The research is expected to take two years to complete. Future consideration of corroboration reform needs to await the findings of jury research and be considered in the wider context of that and the other recommendations of Lord Bonomy's group and any other related reforms.
15.4 Addressing historical institutional abuses
The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, chaired by Lady Anne Smith, is looking into abuse of children in care and is expected to report within four years of starting work on 1 October 2015. The Inquiry will raise public awareness of the abuse of children in care. It will provide an opportunity for public acknowledgement of the suffering of the children. It will be a forum for validation of their experience and testimony. The Inquiry will report to Scottish Government Ministers within four years with recommendations for the future to improve the law, policies and practices in Scotland. The report must also be presented to the Scottish Parliament. The Inquiry is currently taking evidence from people who were abused.