25 March 2004

S2M-1090 Summary Justice

Scottish Parliament
Thursday 25 March 2004
[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]
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Summary Justice
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1090, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on reforming the role of non-jury courts, and one amendment to that motion.
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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is difficult to do justice to a 280-page report that contains 140 recommendations and a significant note of dissent. I am sure that some good will come from the four-month consultation, even if it is only a resolution of some of the conflict between that note of dissent and the substance of the report. Nonetheless, it is disappointing that the Executive has not felt able to "open the dirty raincoat" and let us see its preliminary thoughts on those parts of the report that it should find relatively easy to accept.
I turn to one or two points that touch on the note of dissent and the core report and ask how the committee could have been misled in certain respects by some of the evidence that it appears to have used. I refer particularly to the English report to Lord Irvine's office "The judiciary in the magistrates' courts", which was published in 2000. Pages 75 and 76 of the McInnes report refer to that report, which came up with several financial suggestions that are, upon examination, incredible. It suggests:
"A lay magistrate costs on average £495 per annum compared to the £90,000 per annum total employment costs of a stipendiary."
I do not find that to be particularly astonishing. Those figures translate into £3.59 per appearance before lay magistrates and £21 per appearance before stipendiary magistrates. It goes on to say:
"When indirect costs ... are brought into the equation, however, the gap between the 2 groups narrows, to £52.10 and £61.78."
A bit of basic arithmetic reveals that that only works if the professional magistrates are paid at the rate of £18,000 per year, which I suspect not to be true. I wonder whether, in that particular instance, the committee is founding some of its arguments on some rather dubious numbers that might have been unwisely selected from a larger report.
Miss Goldie: Will the member give way?
Stewart Stevenson: I wish to develop the point that I am making. I am reading from page 76 of the report, if that is helpful.
The authors of the report go on to include opportunity costs—in other words, the cost to the lay person of giving up the benefit of doing what they might have been doing if they were not in court—and say that, in essence, a lay magistrate costs £9 more per appearance than a stipendiary. Of course, that is not a cost to the criminal justice system. It is a genuine and partial measure of the benefit that the lay magistrate is contributing voluntarily to the system. The committee may have misled itself a little on such issues.
In section 5.20, on page 50, there is a discussion of the management savings that are to be made by centralisation. However, according to standard management theory, increasing centralisation increases management as a proportion of effort. Reasonable criticisms may be made of the savings that might be made there. It is perfectly reasonable to integrate vertically the various parts of the criminal justice system, but to integrate the system across the geography of Scotland and to take away local decision making is not necessarily a good idea.
I say seriously to Colin Fox that he ought to ponder carefully whether when he focuses on a few instances of problems with individuals in the criminal justice system he really represents the views of the people whom I meet on constituency business. Those problems must be set against the considerable need of the victims of crime. In the report there is discussion of diversity among lay magistrates and the system is criticised for not being sufficiently diverse. Magistrates are too old and are not socially mixed. However, lay magistrates are more diverse than sheriffs, which is something.
On the issue of volunteers, I note that Assistant Chief Constable Pat Shearer is trying to have more special constables, who are volunteers, employed across Scotland. That illustrates the fact that there is a place for such people in the legal system.
John McInnes has produced an excellent report, but I hope that it does not make the same contribution to the legal system that a copy of "Huckleberry Finn" from Slade prison library made. Fletcher took it to the prison governor and said, "This is the book you wanted, prison governor."
The prison governor asked, "Why?" Fletcher replied, "You wanted a book to prop up your bookcase, and this is the right size." The McInnes report is about the same size as that book—it deserves a better fate than "Huckleberry Finn" in Slade prison.

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