Justice and Safety

The week in review

September 29, 2017 by No Comments | Category Round-up

Domestic abuse legislation, fire service performance and new research into jury decision-making were among the issues on Ministers’ agenda this week.

National Police Memorial Day

We would like to take this opportunity to once again remember the police officers, including 273 in Scotland, who lost their lives on duty since 1812. On Sunday, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson attended the National Police Memorial Service in Cardiff.

Jury research

That same day, Mr Matheson announced plans for research into how juries reach decisions, including their use of the ‘not proven’ verdict. The research, which will be carried out over the next two years, will consider jury size, decision-making processes, and majorities needed and three verdict system. The first research of its kind it Scotland, it will also gather evidence to inform future reform of Scotland’s criminal justice system.

Expert group announced to examine sexual crime

On Tuesday, Michael Matheson announced his intention to form an expert group to look at trends in sexual crime, particularly cyber-enabled offences involving young people. The move follows the publication of research the Cabinet Secretary commissioned last year, which found that around half of all recorded sexual crimes between 2013-14 and 2016-17 has been due to growth in sexual ‘cyber-crime’. It also found that the average age of both perpetrators and victims is substantially lower when the internet is used as a means to commit such offences.

Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo QC said:

“I am delighted that this new expert group will now build on the success of the summit, and acting on the key messages we heard, identify and take the next steps to inform and protect our young people. COPFS will provide our experience and expertise to the group and together better tackle and prevent sexual offending among young people.”

3% fall in recorded crime

Crime statistics published by National Statistics on Tuesday revealed that recorded crime in 2016/17 show an overall 3% drop compared to last year. They show:

  • Crimes recorded by the police in Scotland fell by 3% from 246,243 to 238,651, the lowest level of recorded crime since 1974
  • The number of non-sexual violent crimes was 6% higher last year compared to 2015-16, though still 49% lower than 2006-07
  • Crimes of handling offensive weapons are at their second lowest level since 1984
  • Crimes of dishonesty, crimes of fire-raising, vandalism etc and other crimes (mostly drug related or crimes against public justice) all decreased from 2015/16 levels.

Falkirk Young People’s Champions Board

Michael Matheson attended the launch of the Falkirk Young People’s Champions Board. Champions Boards are forums which create a space for care-experienced young people to meet with key decision-makers, service leads and elected members to influence the design and delivery of services that affect them.

Funded by The Life Changes Trust, the Falkirk Young People’s Board is made up of representative young people, local councillors and a range of other corporate parents. At the launch, the young people gave a presentation about their involvement in the project, and their corporate parents – including members of the local authority, heath boards and Police – were asked to pledge support to the work of the board. Falkirk is now one of 14 local authorities in Scotland who have Champions Boards.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service performance

On Wednesday Minister for Community Safety, Annabelle Ewing, took part in the annual review of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) in Inverness, where people were invited to hear how the SFRS is working to keep communities safe, and ask any questions. Members of the public and stakeholders attended the session, where they heard from Chair of the SFRS Board Pat Watters and Chief Officer Alasdair Hay. Assistant Chief Officer Lewis Ramsay presented on Retained Delivery Service performance and fielded questions on the subject.

Ms Ewing said: “The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s continued commitment to prevention, protection and response has played an important part in the decrease in the total number of fires in Scotland over the last decade.

“This meeting allows Government and members of the public to look at the Service’s performance and is an excellent opportunity to update us on all of the work that has been done. It also gives our communities and stakeholders the chance to put their questions directly to the SFRS Board and gives us the chance to show our recognition of the vital service the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service does to keep us all safe.”

Breaking the chain of violence

Those who work to break the chain of violence cycled en masse from Glasgow to Edinburgh in a bid to raise money for Navigator, who help those trying to build new lives. Navigator is a Scottish Violence Reduction Unit and Medics Against Violence scheme, where Navigators engage with patients in hospitals to see if they are open to breaking free from the challenges trapping them in violent situations.

The money raised with help with small items that may be required by those in immediate need like food and clothing. It will also help domestic violence victims with basic furniture items as they build a new life free from abusive partners.

Vision outlined to transform court experience for children and vulnerable witnesses

On Thursday the Justice Secretary welcomed the latest report from the Evidence & Procedure Review, focusing on pre-recorded evidence.

The report, published by the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service, identifies the twin benefits of reducing trauma to young and vulnerable victims and witnesses, and improving the reliability and comprehensiveness of the evidence that is given – enhancing the quality of justice and the fairness of the trial.

Unveiling the report, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian said all those who come into contact with the criminal justice system must be treated with respect, and be allowed to engage meaningfully with it.

“This report is another step in the journey to put Scotland amongst the world leaders in delivering fair and effective justice for all, including the most vulnerable in society,” Lady Dorrian commented.

Mr Matheson said: “We are already seeking views on the reforms needed to enable greater use of pre-recorded evidence and our Programme for Government outlined our intention to legislate on the matter. This supports our collaborative work with justice organisations to improve joint investigative interviews and our commitment to providing practical and financial support to ensure the High Court Practice note is implemented.”

Domestic Abuse Bill

The week culminated with a focus on tackling domestic abuse, with Michael Matheson leading a Stage 1 Parliamentary debate on the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill on Thursday. The Bill will introduce new offences to better tackle psychological abuse and coercive control. This will ultimately help prosecute those who subject their partners to prolonged abuse.

As Mr Matheson said in his opening speech, our modern understanding of domestic abuse is changing, and the law must evolve to take this into account. While domestic abuse can take the form of physical violence and overt threats, it can also take the form where an abuser behaves in a highly controlling, coercive and abusive way over a long period of time. The motion enjoyed broad support in Parliament.

Watch Mr Matheson’s closing remarks here:

One Thousand Words

To coincide with Thursday’s Parliamentary debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill, Scottish Women’s Aid and Zero Tolerance launched a new, free photographic resource for media reporting domestic violence – encouraging people to use alternatives to the stereotypical images that support the supposition that domestic abuse always involves physical violence.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said:

“Powerful photography from Zero Tolerance over many decades has demonstrated the damage domestic abuse causes in our society. This partnership with Scottish Women’s Aid reflects our modern understanding that coercive and controlling behaviour is domestic abuse, and helps educate people that domestic abuse does not necessarily involve physical violence.

“One thousand words is a powerful way challenge perceptions of violence against women which is often portrayed in media using stereotypical images. In recognition of this, we have contributed additional funding towards Zero Tolerance to develop guidance for journalists. The guidance, which will be launched later this year, will promote responsible coverage of this important issue, as well as reminding them of the harm that can result from identifying victims and their children.”


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