The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 (the Act) has been passed unanimously by the Scottish parliament, building on the emergency powers introduced in the UK government's legislation to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus.

The Act contains further powers and additional measures on devolved areas of policy to ensure essential public services and businesses can continue to operate.

The measures in the Act are limited for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak and will expire on 30 September 2020. However, Scottish ministers can extend the legislation for two further periods of six months, meaning the legislation may be in place for a maximum of 18 months.

Below is a summary of some of the key clauses contained within the Act.

Prevention of evictions

The Act introduces powers to temporarily extend the notice periods for all evictions, except in certain limited cases, for three or six months.

The Act also contains provision to temporarily change all private rented sector repossession cases going before the First Tier Tribunal to be considered on a discretionary basis.

Protection for debtors

The Act contains powers to extend the period of a moratorium on creditor diligence to six months to provide immediate relief for people having difficulty maintaining debt payments and also removes the limitation that only one moratorium can be applied for in a 12 month period.

Justice

Transmission of documents

The Act allows for documents produced by a court or tribunal, or which legislation requires must be given to another person in connection with, or to initiate, proceedings, to be signed and transmitted electronically to enable key documents to be processed without physical movement or contact and maintain the operational flexibility of court and judicial business.

Suspension of requirements for attendance

The Act contains provision for any participant in criminal or civil proceedings to participate by way of video or by telephone from any location. The default position for civil matters is that attendance will be by electronic means, unless the courts direct otherwise. By contrast the default position for trial diets is that attendance electronically will be allowed only if the court is satisfied that this will not prejudice the fairness of proceedings or the interests of justice.

Fiscal fines as alternatives to prosecution

The Act increases the maximum fine from £300 to £500 in a bid to reduce the burden on criminal courts. The scale of fixed penalty notice levels will be amended by the Act to reflect the new maximum fine level.

Legal aid

The Act contains measures to mitigate the impact of coronavirus on law firms that conduct legal aid work. These measures include reducing the level of scrutiny required before an interim payment may be made and the removal of conditions for counsel to apply for an interim payment.

Alcohol Licensing

The Act creates new discretion for a licensing board to conduct hearings via telephone, video-conference or by written communication.

The Act contains provision to ensure a premises licence will not cease to have effect by virtue of a premises temporarily closing for reasons relating to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Act introduces a six month extension if the application is related to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, those applying for a new personal license now no longer need to apply for renewal at least three months prior to the expiry date.

Freedom of Information

The legislation introduces measures to reduce the burden placed upon authorities to respond to requests for information. The measures include extending the deadline for responding to requests from 20 working days to 60 working days.

Local authority meetings

The Act enables local authorities to exclude members of the public from attending meetings while the obligation to provide hard copies or extracts of documents requested by members of the public is no longer mandatory.

Protection from termination for commercial tenants

The Act contains provision to extend the period of notice for termination of a commercial lease for non-payment of rent by a tenant from 14 days to a period of 14 weeks.

The Act also gives Scottish ministers powers to extend the 14 week period if necessary.

Planning

The Act introduces measures to ensure that where full planning permission or planning permission in principle would expire then that permission should not lapse for a period of 12 months from the date on which the Act came into force. This applies even if the development has not been commenced. The permission would only lapse if the development has not commenced before the end of the 12-month period. These timescales can be amended by Scottish ministers if required.

The legislation also provides the ability to defer an application for approval to the end of the 12 month period provided the application is made within the six month emergency period.

Land registration

The Act extends the protected period of advance notices, and makes provision for registration in the Land Register and Register of Sasines to proceed on the basis of a copy of a traditional paper deed submitted to the Keeper of the Registers through electronic means.

Modification of powers to make subordinate legislation

The Act introduces powers to enable secondary legislation to be made under an emergency draft affirmative procedure as opposed to the normally-used affirmative procedure.

This allows for secondary legislation to be brought into force before a parliamentary vote takes place if necessary due to the coronavirus outbreak. This power has been included in the Act to take account of anticipated disruption to Holyrood's sitting times and ability to scrutinise legislation in the weeks and months ahead.

Business Improvement Districts

The Act contains provision to extend the duration of Business Improvement Districts due to end and go to renewal ballot before 31 March 2021.