31.05.12: Victims of crime
Stewart Maxwell asked what plans there are to improve the support that is offered to victims of crime.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said a “central objective” of the Scottish Government’s Making Justice Work Programme is to “improve the experience of both victims and witnesses of crime”.
He added: “I have made a commitment to bring forward a victims and witnesses bill during this session of Parliament to do just that. Details of our proposals are set out in the consultation paper, Making Justice Work for Victims and Witnesses, which was published on 22 May and is available on the Scottish Government consultation website.”
Maxwell said he believed a key part of the proposals is a provision of better information to victims and witnesses. He said: “A constituent of mine was the victim of crime for which the perpetrator has been caught and imprisoned, but my constituent is worried about what will happen when that individual is released. Will the Cabinet Secretary confirm what rights victims currently have to information about the release date of those who have been convicted of, and sentenced to prison for crimes against them?”
MacAskill replied: “If an offender has been sentenced to 18 months or more in prison, the victim can sign up to the Victim Notification Scheme. Once a victim has signed up to the scheme, they are entitled to be informed of the date on which the offender will be released, when the offender is transferred, or when the Parole Board for Scotland has recommended release.”
Drew Smith (Lab) said: “The Cabinet Secretary will be aware of the proposed changes to the Criminal Injury Compensation Scheme. He will also be aware that, in written questions, I have asked him to detail what discussions the Scottish Government has had with the Ministry of Justice about criminal injury compensation.
“Is he supportive of the reforms that have been proposed to what is a key part of the support that we offer victims?”
MacAskill replied: “We accept that there are difficulties with the current scheme, which has been salami sliced on numerous occasions by governments of various political shades south of the border ever since it was first introduced. The present scheme is vastly different from the one that I first experienced as a law apprentice back in the early 1980s.
“That said, we have great concerns about the UK Government’s proposals. We have written to it to intimate our opposition to, and our scepticism about, various aspects of them. Those matters are still confidential, but we will be happy to provide more detail as the process proceeds. We will be happy to update Drew Smith and Parliament as we go along.”
Scots law teaching should be introduced to schools, Raymond McMenamin from the Law Society of Scotland has said.
He spoke at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, which was taking evidence on the speech, language and communication (SLC) needs of young people in the criminal justice system.
MSP and committee convener Christine Grahame asked what one thing needed to be done to improve the lot of young people with communication needs in the justice system.
McMenamin replied: “It’s no use having people come into courts and they don’t know where they are, what courts do or what lawyers do or the way they speak.”
At its meeting on 21 February, the committee considered a request by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists to undertake an inquiry into why provision to meet SLC needs among offenders was almost negligible in all areas of Scotland’s criminal justice system.
The committee was unable to commit the time required to conduct an inquiry but agreed to explore the matter further at a round-table evidence session.
FMQs 31.05.12: Police and fire reform Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie challenged the FM on police and fire reform, which is currently going through Parliament.
Rennie accused the Justice Committee of “ramming through police centralisation and crushing amendment after amendment”. The legislation will see Scotland’s eight police forces merged into one national unit, with a start date expected to be 1 April next year.
Rennie added: “What is next in the bulldozer’s path?
“Perhaps it will be emergency control rooms. Can the First Minister guarantee that he will not close local police and fire emergency control rooms?”
Alex Salmond replied: “I am still trying to work out the bulldozer thing. The most recent bulldozer, I suppose, was during the Scottish local government elections.
“If I remember correctly, Liberal Democrats the length and breadth of the country, as they did in last year’s Scottish parliamentary elections, made this the centrepoint of their campaign, spreading gloom, doom and despondency around Scotland and saying that central Scottish police and fire services will not work for local communities. The only unfortunate thing—the only bulldozer in operation—was the bulldozer that the Scottish people lumped over the Liberal Democrats.”
Rennie added: “The truth is that his changes will cost money, not save it, which is why the control rooms are under threat. People at the Scottish Police Federation think that emergency control rooms will close. Only a couple of weeks ago, a chief fire officer told Radio Scotland that he believed that closures were on the way.
“When will the decision be made? People rely on control rooms at Thornton, Dundee, Inverness, Aberdeen, Govan and many more places. When will they be told their fate?” Salmond replied: “The programme for police and fire reform continues according to the timetable. We have made the point that we think that within the Scottish structure we can improve local accountability.”