18 September 2002

S1M-2952 Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): Our main item of business this afternoon is the stage 1 debate on motion S1M-2952, in the name of Jim Wallace, on the general principles of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. I call Jim Wallace to speak to and move the motion.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I share Pauline McNeill's disappointment at seeing in the press and hearing on the radio discussions of the committee report before it was published. Indeed, about half an hour before the report was published, we heard some of the protagonists in the smacking issue having a debate on a report that they clearly had not seen.

I want to develop some of the issues that have been raised in the debate so far and to shine a little light into some of the more distant corners of the bill, which have had less scrutiny. I begin by welcoming the minister's acknowledgement that the Executive will reconsider the definitions that will be applied when considering orders for lifelong restriction, with particular regard to the committee's reference to ICD-10—international classification of diseases 10—disorders.

It came as a great surprise to me that even the principle of victim statements received such a lukewarm reception from organisations that might have been expected to welcome their introduction. I say to Mike Rumbles that that was evidence. Does that say something about the consultation process? I ask that neutrally.

The minister says that the Executive is clear about the purpose of victim statements, but I direct the minister to Victim Support Scotland's lukewarm statement:

"Victims may be further distressed and in some sense revictimised by the requirement to be examined and cross examined in the formal court setting."

Scottish Women's Aid said:

"we would have concerns as to the safety of women".

The principle is great, but genuine concerns are being expressed.

Like Pauline McNeill, I think that victims could benefit from much in sections 15 and 16, which could allow them to influence the outcome of Parole Board processes. The sections relate to people who were sentenced to four years or more after 1 April 1997. Elsewhere in the bill, ministers have the opportunity to modify that date. I encourage them to do so and to consider whether, in due course, the same processes could be applied to shorter sentences. That would give victims a wider role in determining release and it would give them the opportunity to know that release is coming along. Those issues are important to victims.

I absolutely support the banning in section 43 of striking a child about the head or of using implements to strike any part of a child. The furore about smacking and the committee's attitude should have come as no surprise to ministers. I first raised the issue with Jim Wallace on 19 September 2001, when I said:

"The objective is not simply to change the legal system, but to deliver a better environment for children in which fewer are chastised."—[Official Report, Justice 1 Committee and Justice 2 Committee (Joint Meeting), 19 September 2001; c 116.]

That remains my objective and that of many members.

We must welcome the minister's change of heart, but the Executive is not off the hook until it makes clear and credible non-legislative proposals that will deliver change in early course. Those proposals must address the point that psychologist Helen Stirling made to the Justice 2 Committee. She said:

"Some research shows that several verbal punishments, such as really heavy shouting"

which I am demonstrating—


which the members opposite are experiencing—

"or calling the child names ... can also have a damaging long-term effect".—[Official Report, Justice 2 Committee, 22 May 2002; c 1377.]

Roseanna Cunningham pointed to the dangers of miscellaneous provisions bills such as the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. For example, section 55 makes Scots residents criminally responsible for actions abroad. We have had no time to debate or consider that. Section 61 has been scrutinised, but the need remains to take more evidence at stage 2. Section 59—I do not even remember reading it—says that ministers must report to Parliament on a feasibility study by 31 December 2008. That must be some feasibility study.

Mr Gallie talked about the process for the bill henceforth. I understand that the ruling is that, as the bill is about the criminal justice system, if we agree to the general principles, it will be valid to lodge amendments that relate to any aspect of the criminal justice system. Therefore, anything could be introduced into the bill. According to the advice that I have been given, that would be procedurally correct, but would serve good legislative order ill. That is why Roseanna Cunningham was correct to draw attention to the dangers of such jumbo-sized bills.


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