Justice Q&A with Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson

Written by Michael Matheson on 5 September 2017 in Inside Politics

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice addresses some key issues in justice and tells Holyrood the naughtiest thing he’s done

Michael Matheson - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

Do you feel the high-profile issues with governance of the SPA has undermined confidence in it as a body and how can that be regained?

The HMICS report on openness and transparency, published in June 2017, and which I requested be brought forward, recognised that SPA board operations and relationships have strengthened over time.

SPA are already acting on the HMICS recommendations to ensure we continue to have a strong and robust police authority to oversee Scottish policing as it continues to serve and safeguard our communities.

I announced recently announced a review of how the executive of SPA can best support the Board to take informed, transparent decisions.

This is presently underway and is being jointly led by the SPA deputy chair Nicola Marchant and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar chief executive Malcolm Burr, who will provide an independent perspective.


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Why are you pushing ahead with plans integrate the British Transport Police in Scotland into Police Scotland, despite advice that this could be risky? And how will you be able to ensure that the specialist service and skills offered by BTP is retained in Police Scotland over the long term?

One of the key reasons for integrating railway policing into Police Scotland is to create a single command structure.

Police Scotland have provided armed policing at our transport hubs in recent weeks and they also provide specialist counter-terrorism policing in Scotland on our railways alongside the specialist road policing, airport policing, armed policing, border policing, underwater policing and counter-terrorism policing more generally.

All of that is delivered in Scotland by Police Scotland.

The benefit that we get from an integrated force in Scotland is that we have a single command structure in dealing with such matters.

If anything, recent events have demonstrated the benefits of having a single command structure, which gives the ability to respond much more effectively should further such events occur.

That is one of the key benefits that will come from delivering integrated policing through the integration of BTP.

The Railway Policing (Scotland) Bill will deliver a level of scrutiny and accountability in relation to railway policing that we have never had previously in this country.

Now that a cross-party decision has been made to devolve the responsibility, we have created provisions that will ensure not only that trade unions and others have a say in how railway policing is delivered in Scotland, but that the Parliament will have oversight in a way that simply has never happened in the past.

That will ensure that railway policing is delivered in a way that we consider to be appropriate for our railways in Scotland.  

The bill will deliver more effective and better policing in Scotland and will create a safer Scotland.

 

A computer system to replace the failed i6 project must be developed. What lessons have been learned from that project to ensure the same does not happen again?

It was obviously disappointing that the Scottish Police Authority had to make the difficult decision to terminate the i6 contract last year but the Auditor General’s report helpfully spells out a number of areas of good practice in the planning and procurement of the programme.

The report does not directly attribute blame for the failure of the project, however there are a number of lessons that the public sector can learn from this and other public sector IT projects.

It is important that our police officers have access to modern technology to support the important work that they do and Police Scotland is now taking a more modular and incremental approach to ICT development to manage risk.

£24.65m of i6 costs have been recovered from Accenture and there has been no cost to the public purse and no loss to SPA and Police Scotland.

 

Cyber-crime is an increasing area of concern, especially considering the attacks on the NHS earlier this year. What are you doing to ensure the public sector and the public is well protected from such attacks?

Scotland’s public sector bodies take cyber security seriously and have already implement a wide range of measures to ensure basic security standards are met.

The Scottish Government has committed to accelerating the development of a public sector action plan to help promote a common approach to cyber resilience across Scotland’s public bodies and ministers expect to receive recommendations from the National Cyber Resilience Leaders’ Board (NCRLB) shortly.

Following this, the Scottish Government will consult with Scottish public bodies on any implementation challenges before taking the plan forward.

Furthermore, the Policing 2026 strategy includes a commitment to recruit around 170 more specialist staff with technical capabilities in areas like cyber crime and vulnerability.

 

Have terrorist attacks this year made you rethink the policy that police should not be routinely armed?

The deployment of armed police is of course an operational decision for the chief constable based on the latest intelligence on threats to Scotland.

He has made clear that the armed response capability in Scotland has increased substantially, following the recent attacks in other parts of the UK.

Creating a single police service has improved access across communities to specialist policing capabilities, including firearms officers. 

This, coupled with forward planning to increase the number of firearms officers over the past year, has ensured Scotland is well prepared to respond to the increased threat. 

 

You have signalled your intention to move towards more community sentencing and away from short-term sentences, so why have you not increased the presumption against short-term sentences from three months to a year?

We know that short sentences do not work either to help rehabilitate people or to reduce the risk of their re-offending and continue to discuss the proposal to strengthen the presumption against short sentences with stakeholders following our consultation on the issue.

It is only right that we take the time to consider these views and we will announce our next steps in due course.

 

With the Law Society of Scotland suggesting that in around a quarter of criminal legal aid cases and a third of civil legal aid cases lawyers are effectively unpaid, do you accept that you are underfunding legal aid with a risk that access to justice is not available for all?

The right to legal aid must be available to everyone, and is protected in Scotland for certain issues. The legal aid budget is demand-led and all those who are eligible for legal aid will receive it.

We announced an independent strategic review of legal aid in February this year to ensure that legal aid meets the changing needs of Scotland’s population and its justice system. The review is due to report in February 2018.

The Law Society of Scotland has responded to the review’s recent call for evidence and the chair has met with the Law Society to discuss its submission. 

The review’s remit is broad and it will make recommendations on the future strategic direction of legal aid over the next 5-10 years. 

In the short to medium term we are working with Law Society to introduce simplifications to the claiming of fees which will make it easier for solicitors to claim and will reduce some of the bureaucracy within the legal aid system.

 

Theresa May implied that security could be at risk unless a good Brexit deal could be made, do you have concerns about that?

Organised crime and terrorism do not respect borders and it is vital that our police service can work with counterparts in Europe and across the world to help keep Scotland safe.

I’ve seen for myself the good work done by Europol and the excellent results achieved by our International Assistance Unit shows that this collaboration is currently working well.

Yet dragging Scotland out of the EU places huge doubts over our Europol membership and participation in the European Arrest Warrant.

This would have serious implications for the safety of Scottish communities, meaning it is much harder to identify, arrest and extradite criminals who travel here – as well as making it more difficult and time consuming to apprehend Scottish criminals who flee overseas.

 

What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?

We didn't have any wheat fields to run through in the housing scheme I was brought up in, but as a child of the high rise flats in Glasgow, playing chappy was an occasional source of fun.

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