Energy Minister Fergus Ewing today called on the UK Government to spell out exactly where the the Oil and Gas Authority’s appeals process would be held or risk losing out on a specialised skills set.
The Scottish Energy Minister, with the support of legal experts, has asked the UK government to fast-track its timeline and ensure new appeal cases relating to OGA decisions be heard in Aberdeen.
As it stands, confirmation as to where the appeals would be heard could come as late as 2020, according to Mr Ewing.
The new process, which is part of the new UK Energy Bill, allows companies to be appeal against the regulator’s decisions.
Mr Ewing wrote to Shailesh Vara, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, and David Mundell, Secretary of State for Scotland, insisting they seek early confirmation.
“It makes sense from every perspective that powers which exist to adjudicate disputes over decisions taken by the OGA are exercised in Aberdeen,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Ewing’s campaign for early confirmation is backed by the Law Society of Scotland.
President Christine McLintock has since written to Amber Rudd, the UK Energy Minister, echoing Mr Ewing’s call for swift action.
“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 the Faculty of Advocates, 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.”
Mr Ewing added: “I fully expect the UK Government to now accept the strong case for these appeals to be determined in Aberdeen.”