Justice and Safety
The week in review
Welcome back to our weekly blog, marking the start of another Parliamentary year with our regular round-up of some of the highlights in justice and safer communities.
Programme for Government
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon opened proceedings in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday by unveiling an ambitious Programme for Government (PfG) for 2017-18. As well as major reforms across justice and other public services, Ministers plan to progress more legislation this year than at any point since devolution, with a total of 27 bills being taken forward – 16 of them new pieces of legislation, and 11 others already announced.
The First Minister told Parliament that the Programme was the Government’s plan to shape an inclusive, fair, prosperous and innovative country, ready and willing to embrace the future.
The Programme included a strong, ambitious agenda for justice and safer communities, reaffirming a firm focus on prevention, diversion and early intervention outlined in the Justice Board’s strategic ‘Vision and Priorities’ paper, published by Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson in July.
The First Minister confirmed plans to extend the presumption against short-term prison sentences from 3 to 12 months, once new measures within the Domestic Abuse Bill, currently proceeding through Parliament, are in force, in order to ensure further safeguards are in place for those who are victims of domestic abuse.
“For some people, a period in prison – sometimes a lengthy period – is the only appropriate sentence,” the First Minister added.
“However, we also know that community sentences, where appropriate, are much more effective in reducing re-offending. Indeed, as a result of decisions we took ten years ago to reform our justice system and more community based alternatives to prison being available, the re-conviction rate is now at an 18-year low. However, we must now be even bolder in our efforts to keep people out of prison and reduce re-offending further.”
The announcement was warmly welcomed by a range of criminal justice organisations, senior professionals and former ministers all experienced in managing offenders both in prison and in communities. The Justice Secretary will outline more details and progress of the Government’s penal policy reforms very soon.
Among the other justice and community safety measures announced in the PfG for the coming year, the Government will:
- legislate to extend electronic monitoring of offenders in the community and also for pre-trial bail options, including the use of new GPS technology;
- continue the development of the new female custodial estate, with greater community focus and support for offenders and their families;
- further reduce the need for children and vulnerable witnesses to give evidence in criminal trials court by allowing more pre-recorded evidence;
- introduce a new drug-driving offence and road-side testing in 2019 that, alongside Scotland’s lower drink-drive limit will give provide the most stringent drink- and drug-driving laws in the UK in order to tackle reckless driver impairment.
Read more about Ministers’ plans for justice and other commitments in the full PfG document on the main Government website.
Catch up with the conversation on Twitter around the PfG via the #scotpfg hashtag.
Watch the First Minister’s full address to Parliament, below, via the Scottish Parliament’s YouTube channel.
‘Cashback’ rugby: promoting opportunities and tackling disadvantage
Also this week Scottish Rugby was awarded more than £1.3 million by the Scottish Government through the CashBack for Communities fund, which redistributes assets seized from criminal activities to provide opportunities for young people across the country.
Scottish Rugby has directed the funding across 15 secondary schools, and associated feeder primary schools, using the physical and social benefits of rugby to help educational attainment and pupils’ own personal development.
The money will go towards developing the ‘CashBack Schools of Rugby – Sport for Change’ programme that has already seen success in Glasgow and the Borders and aims to reach 4,500 young people.
Colin Thomson, Scottish Rugby’s Head of Schools & Youth, said: “The CashBack for Communities funding has been invaluable to our clubs and schools across Scotland over the last three years, especially in our Cashback Schools of Rugby. We look forward to working with the government in the coming months to ensure that the schools announced today are developed as strong rugby communities across Scotland.”
Strengthening collaboration across health and justice
A new Health & Justice Joint Improvement Board met for the first time on Thursday. The board, co-chaired by the Director Generals for Health & Social Care and for Education, Communities & Justice, brought together leaders from both health and justice to explore collaborative opportunities for improvement. This was a key priority identified in the ‘Vision and Priorities’ paper. Specific issues discussed included prisoner health and social care; support for people experiencing distress and improved healthcare services for victims of sexual crimes. Further shared actions and communication were agreed following this first meeting.
Protecting children from sexual offending
On Friday Deputy First Minister, Cabinet Secretary for Education & Skills John Swinney attended an Education Summit, which heard that too many of Scotland’s children and young people are subjected to, or engage in, sexual behaviours that require a criminal justice response.
The number of cases reported to the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) involving a sexual offence committed against a child by a child rose by 34% between 2011/12 and 2015/16.
The conference explored a range of subjects including the legal landscape of sexual offending in Scotland, how we respond to children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviours and preventing online child abuse, with the aim of providing professionals with the tools they need to help prevent future sexual offending and protect children and young people.
Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo QC, who hosted the conference, told delegates: “There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that the most significant factor in determining whether a child will commit criminal offences in the future is contact with the criminal justice system at a young age. I don’t want to prosecute Scotland’s young people nor do I want them to have to give evidence in court against their peers and I believe that the one of the key ways that we can protect our children and young people is by educating them about the law.”
Read more about the conference on the COPFS website.
‘Lest we forget’
On Wednesday morning Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs Annabelle Ewing attended the 12th annual Scottish Police Memorial Service of Remembrance at the Scottish Police College, Tulliallan. Families, former colleagues and many others gathered to remember the courage and sacrifice of those officers who have died in the service of protecting their community. You can view updates from Wednesday’s service on Twitter @ScotPolMemorial and read more about the Memorial on the Scottish Police Memorial Trust website.
Policing from and for the community
On a less sombre note on Friday, Tulliallan was the scene for Police Scotland’s largest passing out parade. Families watched with pride as 213 new recruits took to the Parade Square for what was the force’s most ethnically diverse passing out parade, and one where 37% of the new officers were women – one of the highest ever percentages of women in a class at the College.
Welcoming the new recruits beginning their careers as police officers, Deputy Chief Constable Johnny Gwynne QPM said: “Policing in Scotland is carried out by consent, and one of the best ways to achieve this is to have a police service which reflects the communities we serve. A diverse workforce benefits the whole country and officers who have something in common with their communities can find it easier to understand cultural differences, enabling them to build trust and confidence.”