Justice and Safety

The week in review

November 4, 2017 by No Comments | Category Round-up

Cross-border co-operation in fighting crime, new powers to tackle human trafficking, and the work of Scotland’s prisons are among the issues in this week’s round-up from the Justice and Safer Communities portfolio.


L-R: Brexit Minister Michael Russell, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and Executive Director of Europol Rob WainwrightExecutive Director of Europol Rob Wainwright was in Edinburgh on Tuesday and caught up with Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and Brexit Minister Michael Russell to discuss cross-border policing, including Scotland’s role in international cases, as well as the benefits that being a Europol member delivers for the UK and Scotland.  Ministers highlighted that organised crime does not respect borders and the continuing need for Police Scotland to work closely with their counterparts across Europe to help keep Scotland’s communities safe.

Mr Wainwright said: “Europol is fully committed to supporting the law enforcement community in the UK in the fight against serious crime and terrorism. For many years this has included outstanding cooperation with Police Scotland and other forces and agencies in the country. I am very pleased to visit Scotland this week to review this co-operation and discuss areas for strengthening it in the future.”

Read more on the main Scottish Government website here.

Trafficking and Exploitation Risk Orders in force

Scottish Government Human Trafficking campaignAlso on Tuesday new powers to tackle trafficking suspects came into force, providing Scotland’s justice agencies with an additional means to protect potential victims from harm.

Police can now apply to courts for a Trafficking and Exploitation Risk Order (Tero) when they believe there is a risk someone may commit a trafficking or exploitation offence. This means the suspect is effectively banned from a range of activity with potential restrictions on movement within the UK or on internet use.

The Justice Secretary said the Scottish Government was tackling trafficking by both strengthening the law and raising public awareness through the recently-launched information campaign.

Mr Matheson said: “I launched Scotland’s first strategy on human trafficking this year, which aims to identify and support victims, make Scotland a hostile environment for exploitation, and disrupt traffickers’ activity. The Risk Order should help us do that at the earliest possible opportunity. The exploitation of people – often those in vulnerable circumstances – is a deplorable act. While this crime is a worldwide problem, people should be under no illusion that it is happening across Scotland, and not just in our cities. If you suspect trafficking activity in your community, I urge you to report it – you could just save someone from a life of miserable servitude.”

If people suspect trafficking or exploitation is taking place in their area, or if they have experienced exploitation themselves, they can contact the Modern Slavery Helpline.

Seizing more ill-gotten gains

Ahead of new laws that will extend the reach of law enforcement agencies to seize non-cash criminal assets, a draft code of practice to assist Police Scotland was published for consultation this week.  The Criminal Finances Act 2017 will commence next April and will ensure that items that can be seized as being proceeds of crime can include precious stones, stamps, watches and betting slips.

Mr Matheson said: “Criminals should not be allowed to profit from their crimes and our law enforcement agencies already have robust powers to seize assets acquired by illegal means. More than £4,000,000 has already been recovered by the Crown Office and the Civil Recovery Unit this year and we will continue to disrupt the activities of criminals across Scotland. The draft code of practice will give Police Scotland officers clear guidance as they search for and identify valuable items which, while not simply being a sum of cash, are clearly assets purchased by means of criminal gain.”

Police & fire VAT

On Tuesday Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs Annabelle Ewing called on MSPs across the Parliament to join the Scottish Government in urging HM Treasury to remove the annual £35 million VAT burden which Scotland’s police and fire services face, unlike counterpart territorial services elsewhere in the UK – a position which she described as “completely unacceptable”.

Ms Ewing told MSPs: “When we considered the creation of Police Scotland and the SFRS, we focused on the wider benefits that would be attained by moving from eight regional police and fire bodies to single national organisations. We introduced new and more streamlined bodies in order to reduce bureaucracy and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of those key public services, so that they could meet the challenges of the 21st century. However, the core functions and purposes of both bodies remain as they were before reform, and funding continues to come from the public purse, as is the case with respect to territorial police and fire services across the rest of the UK.”

You can view the Minister’s full contribution to the debate on the Scottish Parliament video here.

Prisons in focus

HMP Barlinnie - SPSThe work of the Scottish Prison Service has been highlighted this week, through a number of publications.

On Monday, an interview with SPS chief executive Colin McConnell was published in the Holyrood website, following on from the magazine’s interview with the Justice Secretary, published last week.

And on Wednesday HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland David Strang published his 2016-2017 Annual Report, noting good progress being made in some areas, and highlighting areas that needed to be strengthened, such as in healthcare and around reintegration into the community.  Ministers welcome the Inspector’s recognition that Scotland’s prisons are generally well run and stable, with key Scottish Government priorities – including positive opportunities, promoting positive family relationships and supporting people before they leave custody as part of key rehabilitation work – all highlighted as successes in the report.

Ministers have made clear they want to see fewer ineffective short-term prison sentences, and greater use of robust community sentences. At the same time, the Scottish Government is committed to reducing the inappropriate use of remand, providing £1.5 million of funding to local authorities over the past two years for to improve the provision of bail support services for women.

The Vision & Priorities for Justice strategy, launched by Michael Matheson at Cornton Vale in July, underlines the importance of a successful transition from custody back into the community in order to help reduce reoffending and so keep crime down and communities safe. Ensuring basic needs such as welfare, healthcare and accommodation are met is critical to that reintegration and, as the Vision also makes clear, it requires partnership working with other public services and third sector agencies beyond the justice system.

In his report, the Chief Inspector also paid tribute to the commitment of SPS staff – and the public were offered a glimpse of their professionalism on Thursday evening, as STV broadcast ‘Ross Kemp Behind Bars – Inside Barlinnie’. The programme followed the actor and documentary-maker during a week at the Glasgow prison.  It is available online for a limited time for Scottish viewers on the STV Player website and, for elsewhere in the UK on the ITV website.

Community sentences across borders

This week also saw the publication of a briefing paper by the Centre for Justice Innovation, ‘Community sentences across borders‘, which examined recent trends and developments in the use of these non-custodial disposals.

The Justice Secretary said the briefing paper underlined the effectiveness of community sentences and also provided a welcome recognition of the progress made – and which he wants to build upon – in Scotland.

Mr Matheson said: “Our shift towards more community sentencing, including the introduction of community payback orders in 2011 have helped reduce Scotland’s reconviction rates by 17% over the last decade, to an 18-year low.

“However, our prison population remains unacceptably high compared to nearly all other western European nations – with short prison sentences offering little scope to support people in custody to move away from a life of crime.

“That is why we will extend the presumption against short-term prison sentences, while promoting greater use of robust community sentences and more options, in the future, to deploy electronic monitoring. Our focus is on tackling the underlying issues which drive offending behaviour and in so doing, continuing to reduce reoffending rates, keeping crime down and communities safe.”

And finally…

Please see the message from our colleagues at the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service and have a safe, enjoyable weekend.


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