Justice and Safety
The week in review
Ministers have had another busy week dealing with and meeting with key partners across a range of justice system and public safety issues – from visiting a pioneering student-led mentoring scheme to passing new laws to reform third-party rights under contract law.
New chapter for the ‘unseen frontline’
On Tuesday Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs Annabelle Ewing welcomed the opening of the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service’s state-of-the-art £2.5 million North Operational Control.
Chief Fire Officer Alasdair Hay said the new purpose-built facility at Dundee has resilience, capability and a working environment far beyond that seen in the legacy centres in the North. It brings to three the total number of SFRS Operations Control serving Scotland, with the remaining two protecting the East and the West.
Mr Hay said: “Our 165 committed Control firefighters across Scotland are the unseen frontline, working together to play a critical role in the safety and wellbeing of Scotland’s communities. Lives have been saved by their calm advice given over the phone that buys vital seconds for those trapped in a fire or other emergency situation. It is therefore only right and proper that we provide them with the very best equipment and facilities to help them deliver, and keep delivering.”
Read more about the new facility, and hear a powerful recording of a real-life emergency call between a member of the public in danger and one of the dedicated Operations Control staff, on the SFRS website.
On Tuesday morning Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson addressed Police Scotland’s Ethical Policing conference in the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan Castle. You can catch up with some of the conversations via Twitter on the #polscotvalues hashtag.
Highland Justice Centre milestone
Tuesday also saw ambitious proposals for a multi-agency Justice Centre in Inverness pass a key milestone as updated plans submitted by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service (SCTS) were approved by The Highland Council.
SCTS Chief Executive Eric McQueen said: “By bringing together the right organisations, we can all focus on problem-solving approaches to reduce re-offending and increase the opportunity for community sentencing, while providing the facilities and technology to remove the need for children to appear in court and in the longer term, digital case management for summary crime.”
The development of summary justice reform was also the focus of an SCTS supplementary report from the Evidence and Procedure Review, published on Wednesday.
This follows proposals in the earlier SCTS report: A New Model for Summary Criminal Court Procedure, which have now been discussed and tested in a series of roadshows bringing together defence agents, voluntary organisations, the judiciary, the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal, court staff, other justice organisations and members of the public.
Critical incidents response
The Justice Secretary was back at the Police College on Wednesday as he attended part of training exercise, supported by the Scottish Government and other partners, to assess and strengthen how Police Scotland approaches the management of critical incidents. Mr Matheson also took time out to meet a number of new special constables, along with DCC Iain Livingstone and Superintendint Chris Stones. Read more about the role of Special Constables on the Police Scotland website.
Arbitration in focus
On Thursday the Minister for Legal Affairs addressed the annual arbitrator training day at the Scottish Arbitration Centre in Edinburgh.
At the same event Lord Clark, a Commercial Court Judge and Arbitration Judge, announced the establishment of a new Arbitration Court User Group to provide a forum for consultation, discussion and feedback between judges, legal professionals and others involved in arbitration matters in Scottish courts.
It is intended that the group, to be chaired by Lord Glennie, will provide a forum for those with an interest in arbitral law to come together to discuss arbitration practice and procedure.
Since the passing of the 2010 Act, momentum has gathered towards an increased use of the procedure in Scotland. The establishment of the Scottish Arbitration Centre and its work in promoting arbitration has been an important feature of that process. You can read more about the new group on the SCTS website.
Modernising Third Party Rights
Later on Thursday the Minister led the Contracts (Third Party Rights) (Scotland) Bill through its final passage in the Parliament.
The legislation represents the first significant developments to the law in this area in nearly 100 years, Ms Ewing said as MSPs endorsed the Bill.
She added: “Contracts form part of everyday modern life and this Bill provides vital clarification on the rights of third parties. Not only does it provide important benefits and protections, it updates the current inflexible approach taken under common law.
“A clear, positive and readily accessible law will improve the standing and value of Scots law domestically and internationally, given the cross-border nature of many modern contacts.”
You can read more information about the legislation, including evidence submitted to Holyrood, on the Scottish Parliament website.
Pupils lead peer-based anti-violence pilot
Also on Thursday the Justice Secretary and the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC visited Boclair Academy in Bearsden to see first-hand how school pupils are benefitting from the advice of their peers as part of an innovative project aimed at reducing the incidence of young people being caught up in violence.
Established in 2008 and led by health professionals as part of efforts to reduce the numbers of young people sustaining injuries from violent incidents, Medics Against Violence (MAV) has reached more than 30,000 young people thanks to 250 volunteers across health. In a further step, two schools are now piloting MAV ‘Interns’ with their senior pupils delivering lessons on a range of related issues, including for example alcohol misuse, to more than 700 of their younger peers.
Mr Matheson said: “The work of Medics Against Violence fits well with our overall approach of prevention and early intervention and I’m pleased to see they’re reached a significant number of school children. The Interns project in particular will help educate our young people on the harm that violent crime can cause, as well as its consequences.”
The Lord Advocate added: “Thankfully crimes of possessing a weapon have decreased over a ten-year period and fewer people have been admitted to hospital as a result of knife crime. The work of organisations like Medics Against Violence who explain the consequences of carrying a knife in a way which young people relate to has, I believe, contributed to this. However, it is vital that we don’t become complacent and that we continue to use education to get a strong message across that carrying a knife has serious and sometimes fatal consequences.”
You can learn more about the work of MAV on the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit website – and hear about the pilot project in the video below.
MSPs back principles of new domestic abuse law
Mr Matheson has welcomed the unanimous backing of the Parliament’s Justice Committee for the general principles of the Government’s Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill.
Ahead of a Stage One debate by the full Parliament next week, the Committee’s report on the Bill said it was “sobering” to consider that serious and long-term psychological abuse within a relationship often cannot be prosecuted.
The Justice Secretary welcomed MSPs’ recognition that the Bill aims to close a gap in the law which would, he added “enable police and prosecutors to better protect partners and ex-partners from those who perpetrate domestic abuse, including coercive and controlling behaviours. I will reflect carefully on the report recommendations and the points made in next week’s Stage 1 debate, as we consider how to respond formally to the Committee’s helpful report”.
On Friday the chair of Parliament’s Justice sub-committee on policing, Mary Fee accepted an invitation from the Justice Secretary to be on the panel for the appointment of a new chair of the Scottish Police Authority.
This is a regulated appointment overseen by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland and, as set out in legislation, the final decision on the appointment is for Scottish Ministers.
Mr Matheson said: “The Role of SPA chair is to work with Police Scotland and the communities it serves to contribute to making Scotland safer and stronger. Having committed to considering how the Parliament could have an enhanced role in this appointment, within the established statutory process, I have invited Mary Fee MSP, in her capacity of convener to the Justice sub-committee, to join the panel for the upcoming shortlisting and interviews. I am very pleased to say that Ms Fee has accepted my invitation and that the process for appointing a new chair is progressing well.”
Getting the message around the world
And finally this week, we were heartened to see that Scotland’s recent work to challenge and change common misconceptions about rape, the ‘I just froze’ public awareness campaign led by Rape Crisis Scotland, has been picked up in Australia.
The Nepean-Blue Mountains Local Health District in western Sydney has just launched its campaign based on the messages of the Scottish Government-backed campaign launched earlier this year to coincide with changes to jury directions in certain sexual assault trials.
— Rape Crisis Scotland (@rapecrisisscot) September 19, 2017
Find out more about ‘I Just Froze’ on the Rape Crisis Scotland website.