Justice and Safety
The week in review
This week’s round-up includes new statistics on human trafficking, new regulations of civil courts system and an independent review into legal aid system. Firstly though, on behalf of the public, the Justice and Safer Communities directorates would like to extend our thanks to all those across the Justice sector who have worked so hard during this week’s extreme wintry weather.
This includes our emergency responders and the range of resilience partners who step in to assist them, often in hazardous conditions, to keep people safe, as well as the many hard-working officers and staff in prisons, courts, Crown Office, parole and other organisations who kept vital justice services running despite challenging conditions.
Supporting victims of rape
On Thursday Michael Matheson announced £1.7 million funding to extend a pilot scheme supporting victims of rape as they engage with the justice system.
The National Advocacy Project (NAP) was set up with Scottish Government funding in 2016 to help improve support for survivors of rape and other serious sexual crimes, and specifically also their experience of the criminal justice process.
The Rape Crisis Scotland-led pilot project, and an independent evaluation whose findings were published on Thursday, also sought to gain a better understanding of survivors’ motivations to proceed or not to proceed with criminal proceedings and the difference that advocacy support makes to such decisions.
In light of the evaluation, Mr Matheson has increased funding – from £560,000 currently to £861,000 for each of the next two years – to allow extra advocacy workers to be recruited in areas of most demand and provide additional capacity for Rape Crisis Scotland to support and co-ordinate the service nationally.
The announcement also followed National Statistics for Criminal Proceedings in Scotland during the year up to April 2017, published on Tuesday, which showed a fall in the conviction rate for rape and attempted rape.
In April 2017 changes to judicial directions for certain sexual offence trials came into force with the aim of challenging any pre-conceived notions that jurors may have about how a person “should” react when they are the victim of a sexual offence. A high-profile public information campaign challenging wider public attitudes to the issue – #ijustfroze – was also launched last year, commissioned by Rape Crisis Scotland with Scottish Government funding.
The Justice Secretary said: “The Scottish Government continues to work with partners across public services and the third sector to ensure that victims of rape and other sexual crimes not only receive support, but actually feel supported from the very moment they need it. Despite an increase in the number of people coming forward in recent years, we recognise that crimes such as rape and domestic abuse continue to be under-reported when compared to other types of crime, and that an efficient, victim-centred legal process is an essential part of ensuring there is necessary support for victims.”
Read more on the main Scottish Government news pages.
Reduction in court case volumes follows falling crime
Tuesday’s National Statistics also highlighted the continued fall in criminal court proceedings – now at their lowest level since comparable records began in 1970.
While falling crime has also been accompanied by fewer prison sentences, the proportion of all offenders jailed has remained steady – 14% in 2016-17 compared to 13% in 2007-08 – while the average length of prison sentences, excluding life sentences, is 26% higher than a decade ago.
Mr Matheson said: “Scotland’s courts continue to sentence those who pose significant risks to public safety to imprisonment, with more than a third of those convicted of sexual offences last year being jailed compared to just under a quarter in 2007-08.
“The Scottish Prison Service works every hour of every day to support the rehabilitation of those serving long-term sentences in custody – helping to reduce their likelihood of reoffending and so contributing to keeping crime down and communities safe. We can help hard-working prison staff to do that most effectively by enabling the use of more robust community sentences for other men and women who might otherwise be given short and very often ineffective periods in custody.”
Supporting civil court actions
Victims of domestic abuse, those who have received crisis support through Scottish welfare funds and more people on low incomes will be exempt from civil court fees under new regulations laid in Parliament this week.
The changes introduced by Minister for Legal Affairs Annabelle Ewing include:
- Introducing a new exemption for people who have received crisis support through Scottish welfare funds
- Raising the level of income that can be received whilst still accessing the social security related exemptions to the level of the living wage
Extending exemptions so that the civil protective orders sought by victims of domestic abuse will not attract a fee, and committing to working with support organisations to enhance this work. Court fee levels will increase in line with inflation from 25 April 2018. Read more on the main Scottish Government website.
Rethinking Legal Aid
An independent review into legal aid published this week has outlined a 10-year vision, including 67 recommendations, to ensure the system in Scotland is simpler, user-focused and more flexible – as well as sustainable and cost-effective.
Carnegie UK Trust Chief Executive Martyn Evans, who chaired the review said its aim was to put users and the public interest at the heart of Scotland’s legal aid system. He said:
“This report sets out a ten-year timeframe to allow for short term impact as well as more ambitious, strategic improvements that will deliver a better public service for the people of Scotland.”
Recommendations include maintaining the current scope of the legal aid fund but simplifying the process, investing in service improvement, innovation and technology and establishing a new arm’s length body responsible for delivery of publicly-funded legal assistance.
Responding to the report, Annabelle Ewing said it provided a platform for further reforms of Scotland’s legal aid system. “We will consider its recommendations in consultation with justice organisations, the legal profession and partners who have been tasked with change,” the Minister added. “I will meet with the Scottish Legal Aid Board, Law Society of Scotland and Faculty of Advocates as a priority to discuss next steps.”
Uncovering human trafficking
Figures published on Monday revealed that the number of potential human trafficking victims identified and given help in Scotland has risen over the last year. There were 213 referrals to Police Scotland in 2017, a 42% increase from 2016.
The greatest increase was in labour exploitation referrals, and over half of reports referred to a male victim, a rise of 64% from the previous year. The rise indicates greater awareness of the issue of human trafficking, after the Scottish Government launched the country’s first national strategy in 2017 to deal with perpetrators and improve support for victims, leading to a public awareness campaign.
Michael Matheson launched the strategy in May last year. He said: “During development of our national strategy and since its publication last spring, human trafficking and exploitation has rarely been far from the news agenda. That, together with the public information campaign, has helped ensure greater public awareness of the issue and the harm it causes.
“Trafficking and exploitation can take place in any community and does not only affect people from overseas. It is essential that if we see or suspect something then we contact the appropriate authorities.”
SPA executive review
An executive review into the Scottish Police Authority has been published this week. It was commissioned by the Justice Secretary last summer to consider how the executive staff of the Authority could most effectively support the SPA Board to deliver its statutory functions and conducted by Malcolm Burr, Chief Executive of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, and Nicola Marchant, former Deputy Chair of the SPA.
Responding to the review findings, Mr Matheson said: “I am grateful for the work of the reviewers in producing this report. Since taking post in December, the new Chair of the Scottish Police Authority has committed to strengthen processes and governance within the organisation and has already made improvements, and I know that together with the Interim Chief Officer they will give this report due consideration.”