WE HAVE been hearing a lot about law-making in recent times, what with one of the key reasons for the UK deciding to leave the European Union supposedly to be so we can make our own again.

Yet, while Scots law has been greatly influenced by legislation from Europe, the truth is that the Scottish statute book is a constantly evolving piece of work that a specific body – the Scottish Law Commission – has the job of reviewing.

For commission chairman Lord Pentland, a serving judge in the Outer House of the Court of Session, this task of reviewing and reforming legislation is vital to “ensure the law stays in touch with modern society and its values”.

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“We have a statutory duty to modernise the law and in particular to reduce the number of separate enactments where possible,” he explained.

Much of the work the commission does focuses on what Lord Pentland termed “tidying up the statute book”, which generally takes the form of consolidating separate but related laws, although some of the reforms it recommends to the Scottish Government are far wider in scope.

Take its work on defamation laws. Although the rise of the internet means we are living in an age of mass communication, the laws surrounding defamation are still very much rooted in the pre-digital world.

The commission has come up with a draft bill that aims to remedy this by building on the changes that have already been introduced in England and Wales as part of the 2013 Defamation Act.

“The exponential developments in technology, the internet and social media have raised particular challenges for the law of defamation and the law on privacy – you see it in the defence of fair comment and honest opinion,” Lord Pentland said.

“An interesting question is the extent to which someone commenting on a news article on Twitter might or might not be liable.

“There have been a number of cases in the courts in England and Wales applying and interpreting the provisions of the 2013 act, particularly in relation to the new threshold of serious harm - that helps to filter out unmeritorious actions, which can have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.”

Given the rise of the new media in recent years, Lord Pentland said the commission took particular care to hear the views of online publishers when it was consulting on the defamation project.

“The point that has been made to us, particularly by the new media, is the importance of the law being accessible and comprehensible to ordinary people,” he said.

“We have the opportunity to restate in ordinary form a number of principles - the defence of truth will be put on the statute book in a modern form as will the Reynolds defence of public interest.

“Defamation law is a very technical area. What we are aiming for is a statute that people will be able to look at and understand, perhaps without the need for legal advice.”

Given the prevalence of social media and the ease with which individuals could potentially fall foul of the law, the proposed defamation reforms are likely to have a broad appeal. The same cannot be said about some of the other laws the commission has been looking at, with compulsory purchase, moveable transactions and heritable securities all forming part of its most recent programme of work.

Nevertheless, Lord Pentland stressed that the body wants the public at large and not just those involved in the legal profession to contribute to its work.

“I don’t care for the phrase lawyers’ law,” he said. “I think the law in any area affects real people. That’s why all of our work is built on the foundations of extensive public consultation. We want to understand the problems people at the sharp end are facing, not just lawyers.”

In practice, though, while the commission tries to reach as wide an audience as possible, with Lord Pentland noting he is “very interested in the potential social media offers for engagement with a wide public”, it is not generally those at the receiving end of the law that take part.

“Important stakeholders are the judiciary,” Lord Pentland said. “They will almost always respond to our discussion papers in an involved way. They identify particular problems that have occurred at the coal face, on the front line.”

Whether this means a diversity of views is reflected in the reforms proposed by the commission is a moot point, though, especially when the make-up of the commission itself is taken into account. Indeed, while chief executive Malcolm McMillan stressed that most of the lawyers working at the organisation are female, just one of the five commissioners is. None are from an ethnic minority background and there is also a heavy Edinburgh bias in the institutions they were involved with prior to joining the commission.

Although this is not unusual – the commissioners in England and Wales, who regularly work with the Scottish body on laws that are reserved to Westminster, are all white males - it does mean the commission will have to work harder than ever to prove the work it does ensures the law really does stay in touch with modern society and its values.

Lord Pentland believes it is up to the task.

“The promotion of diversity is key across our work, internally and externally, and we are completely committed to it,” he said.