Legislative quality and the Scottish Parliament

McHarg, Aileen (2017) Legislative quality and the Scottish Parliament. Edinburgh Law Review, 21 (1). pp. 109-115. ISSN 1364-9809 (https://doi.org/10.3366/elr.2017.0394)

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Writing in The Scotsman in July 2016, Alistair Bonnington made the startling claim that the Scottish Parliament produces “the lowest quality legislation in Europe”.1 Such hyperbole is easy to dismiss; given the linguistic challenges, and the varying roles and styles of legislation in different legal systems, how would one even begin to make such a comparative assessment? Nevertheless, complaints about the rigour of Holyrood's legislative process and the quality of its legislative output, usually by comparison with Westminster, have dogged the Parliament since its earliest days, though criticisms are more often based on assertion and anecdote than detailed analysis. This is perhaps unsurprising given that measuring the quality of legislation and the effectiveness of parliamentary scrutiny are more complex tasks than might be thought.2 This note aims to shed some light on the debate by considering the different things we might mean when talking about “good” or “bad” legislation and by identifying what we know – and, more importantly, what we do not know – about Holyrood's performance measured against these criteria.