Glasgow law professor accuses Scottish Government of 'outsourcing coercion'

Professor James Chalmers of Glasgow University’s law school criticised the guidance issued to students.

Friday, 25th September 2020, 4:45 pm
University students have been threatened with being thrown out of university if they don't follow newly imposed restrictions
University students have been threatened with being thrown out of university if they don't follow newly imposed restrictions

Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government have been accused of “outsourcing coercion” by a respected law academic.

Professor James Chalmers, who is a regius professor of law at the University of Glasgow, took to social media to outline his concerns around the guidance issued to students by Universities Scotland.

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The representative body for Scottish universities issued the guidance yesterday, threatening expulsion from higher education settings if students were found to breach the new rules telling them not to socialise in pubs, bars and restaurants over the weekend.

Prof Chalmers said the requirement for the First Minister to issue a clarification meant the guidance was not clear and added that care has to be taken with rules that lead to punishment.

He said: “Everyone involved in this has been working in good faith and under great pressure of time. But if you are going to threaten to *punish* people you have to do that on the basis of clear and carefully thought through rules. You cannot do it this way.

“Also, the Scottish Government has coercive powers here and can make regulations if it wants to, which has always involved careful drafting. If you circumvent that process by outsourcing coercion to a press release, this sort of stuff happens.

“I am absolutely not suggesting that action was not needed here, nor am I taking a particular view on what that action should have involved. But on the one aspect I do know a bit about - drafting rules with punitive consequences - I am very disappointed with what had happened.

“Postscript: I suspect the Scottish Government was quite happy to have outsourced rule-making, responsibility and punishment in the way it did yesterday. From various statements today, I equally strongly suspect that it now regrets it.

“Bypassing the lawyers - pains in the neck who ask you a lot of stupid questions - is always attractive, but the hangover when you have to answer those questions in public instead can be head-splitting.”

Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing the First Minister said she was trying to communicate as clearly as possible.

She said: “I’m a politician, I spend my days making a lot of decisions but I keep part of the middle of the day to communicate the decisions and do that as clearly as possible.

"Sometimes we get that right, sometimes we don’t get it right, and that will be true of everybody.

"You will always look back at a press statement or a speech I have given and think maybe I could have expressed that better or more clearly.

"None of us are perfect here. As it happens, I went on Twitter and made sure a particular point wasn’t being misinterpreted because it looked to me as if it might be.

"But then I went back and looked at the statement that Universities Scotland put out and it didn’t actually seem that unclear to me.

"We all have a duty and it is a duty I take really seriously to communicate really clearly and if with the best will of the world that wasn’t as clear as it could have been then of course we will try and learn these lessons.”

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