Law Society and Faculty back Ewing over OGA appeals process

Fergus Ewing

The Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates have backed energy minister Fergus Ewing’s calls this week on the UK government to clearly state where theOil and Gas Authority’s appeals process would be held.

Mr Ewing has asked the UK government to fast-track its timeline and make sure appeal cases pertaining to OGA decisions are heard in Aberdeen.

The new process, contained in the Energy Bill, will let companies appeal against the regulator’s decisions.

Mr Ewing said that as things stand, confirmation could be as late as 2020.

Writing to Shailesh Vara, parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice, and David Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland, he stated: “It makes sense from every perspective that powers which exist to adjudicate disputes over decisions taken by the OGA are exercised in Aberdeen.

“Although the Scotland Bill enables the management and operation of reserved tribunals to be transferred to Scotland I have great concern about the timetable for these transfers. I have been told this is unlikely to happen before 2020 at the earliest, by which time opportunity to develop the necessary specialisations will have been lost – not to mention the extra cost and inconvenience of travel and the time expected of individuals, such as witnesses, would be enormous overall. Moreover, this would make a small but not insignificant contribution to the local economy and also provide an opportunity for the Scottish Legal Profession.

“I feel it is vitally important that the expertise of Scotland’s legal profession is utilised at the start and that the UK government give a firm commitment to that now. The Law Society in Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and the Society of Advocates in Aberdeen have all expressed their support with this.

“It would be sensible to locate the tribunals in Aberdeen because it is the international capital of oil and gas activity and is where most of the business which could lead to disputes will be done – and the legal business should be there too.

“The tribunal exists in order to provide a means of receiving and determining any complaints about decisions taken by the OGA. Complaints are likely to arise and we should be prepared. Any such complaints are likely to be serious so it is important such proceedings are based where the grievance occurs, where witnesses work, companies operate and the office of the oga OGA is located. These are all or mostly in Aberdeen.”

President of the Law Society, Christine McLintock repeated Mr Ewing’s calls in a letter to Amber Rudd, the UK energy minister.

She stated: “Aberdeen is central to the oil industry in Scotland, the UK and internationally. We would support the Scottish government’s efforts to ensure that appeals relating to decisions made by the industry’s regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority, can be heard in the city.

“Given that the Oil and Gas Authority is already based there and the wealth of specialist knowledge and expertise about the sector among the legal profession and judiciary in the North East, it makes sense to also locate the new tribunal and appeals tribunal in Aberdeen.

“There is a fairly short time period of 28 days to lodge notice of an appeal. If the appeal goes ahead, it is highly likely that the majority of potential claimants and witnesses involved in the case, as well as their legal representatives, would be located in and around Aberdeen. Having the tribunal and appeals tribunal in the same part of the country will be more convenient to access, saving time, effort and money for all concerned.”

The Faculty of Advocates has also leant its support, stating: “Aberdeen would be the natural forum for these disputes.”

James Wolffe QC, Dean of Faculty, said: “The Oil and Gas Authority is based in Aberdeen, and it makes sense for appeals from the Authority to be heard there.

“The Energy Bill establishes a new structure for appeals from the regulator. These appeals should be dealt with, from the outset, in Scotland, where so much work related to the oil and gas industry already takes place.”

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