Scottish Government publishes new justice strategy

Written by Jenni Davidson on 12 July 2017 in News

‘Justice in Scotland: Vision and Priorities’ lays out the key priorities in justice for the next five years

Michael Matheson - Image credit: David Anderson/Holyrood

The Scottish Government has published a new justice strategy for 2017 to 2020.

‘Justice in Scotland: Vision and Priorities’ particularly focuses on prevention and intervention as it lays out the priorities for progress over the next five years.

It highlights the key role of wider public services, such as health, education, housing and employability, in supporting justice organisations to deliver on their priorities.

The need for modernisation of the justice system and a better experience for victims are also among the areas for work.

Seven priorities are set out in ‘Justice in Scotland: Vision and Priorities’:

  • Enabling communities to be safe and supportive, where individuals exercise their rights and responsibilities
  • Enabling people, economy and infrastructure to respond to major risk, recover from emergencies and adapt to emerging threats
  • Modernising civil and criminal law and the justice system to meet the needs of people in Scotland in the 21st century
  • Working with others to improve health and wellbeing in justice settings, focusing on mental health and substance use
  • Working to quickly identify offenders and ensure responses are proportionate, just, effective and promote rehabilitation
  • Improving the experience of victims and witnesses, minimising court attendance and supporting them to give best evidence
  • Using prison only where necessary to address offending or to protect public safety, focusing on recovery and reintegration.

The strategy will also be accompanied by an annual delivery plan setting out the key actions that Scottish Government and justice organisations will take in that year.


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Targets in the 2017-18 delivery plan include modernising the legal aid system, raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12, promoting best practice and prevention in dealing with missing persons, expanding the use of electronic monitoring and undertaking more work on cyber crime.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Over the last decade Scotland has become a safer place, with less crime, including violence, falling drug use, improved fire safety and better support when people are victims of crime or other serious incidents.

“But we strive for greater progress, not least while inequality continues to influence the likelihood of someone being a victim of crime or being drawn into offending. 

“This is among the challenges outlined in the vision paper, which also highlights the relatively poor physical and mental health of people in contact with the justice system.

“Our criminal and civil justice system, and the valued professionals who sustain it are focused on building a safer and a fairer Scotland – protecting the public while supporting individuals and families facing financial, emotional or other crises.

“Our decisive shift in approach to youth justice, intervening earlier and providing multi-agency support, has seen huge falls in youth offending and we continue to draw lessons from that success.”

The strategy launch came as demolition work began at Scotland’s main women’s prison, HMP & YOI Cornton Vale.

Matheson acknowledged that Scotland’s prison population was too high and announced the first two community-based custody units to replace Cornton Vale.

He continued: “While our imprisonment rate – the second highest in Western Europe – remains too high, prisons will always be necessary for those who commit the most serious offences, or who pose significant risks to public safety.

“The Scottish Prison Service is transforming how they work to better rehabilitate those in custody, addressing underlying issues that can often drive their return to jail.

“With the demolition of Cornton Vale under way, there is no turning back on our plans for a smarter, more progressive approach to managing women in custody, ensuring they are prepared for life after release.

“That is why I am also pleased to announce that the first two community custodial units for west and east Scotland will be in Glasgow and in Fife or Dundee.

“By housing women in smaller, community-based units closer to their families, and providing additional support to address their needs, such as drug and alcohol advice or mental health support, we can further reduce re-offending – and so keep crime down and our communities safe.”

However, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said the strategy fails to recognise the need for rehabilitation and called for an immediate commitment to a presumption against short-term prison sentences of less than 12 months.

Lib Dem justice spokesperson Liam McArthur said: “This strategy offers an opportunity for the Scottish Government to refresh their approach to the justice system.

“However, we need to see far greater ambition from the Scottish Government in tackling rehabilitation and ensuring that the justice system works more effectively for everyone.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats support early intervention with those at high risk of first-time offending, and will support the further transfer of resources from ineffective short prison sentences to robust and effective community justice options.

“But SNP ministers need to show they mean business. They could start by immediately announcing a new robust presumption against sentences of less than 12 months. 

“In addition we need to see an investment in mental health professionals co-located with the police and in prisons to provide a focus on effective rehabilitation and tackling problems associated with addiction and drug abuse. 

“These would be valuable first steps in a strategy that recognises the importance of rehabilitation within the criminal justice system.”

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