31 January 2007

S2M-5427 Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 31 January 2007

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

… … …

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5427, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill, which is United Kingdom legislation.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In a world of shifting boundaries—one thinks of the Balkans, Africa and the middle east—and with the overhang of history from the Holocaust, there are many circumstances in which the ownership of works of art might be open to legitimate question. In the House of Lords, Greville Janner said in relation to taking such disputed items into the UK:

"If it is stolen art, I do not want them to bring it here."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 29 November 2006; Vol 687, c 787.]

We should not want such works here if they are a matter of debate.

Although this is not in the bill, some people propose that museums should be able to bring in works of art from abroad only if they sign up to a code of conduct under which they undertake to investigate the provenance of the works of art in question. That will be a subject for Scottish ministers if this legislative consent motion is agreed to and the House of Lords passes the bill in substantially the form in which it has been presented.

There are a number of amendments on today's order paper in the House of Lords relating to due diligence. However, they were not proceeded with on 12 December, when there was a debate on the matter. I hope that the House of Lords will take tent of what is said here.

There are other issues relating to the drafting of part 6 of the bill that suggest that it is not well drafted. For example, works of art can come in for a period of 12 months. However, if they leave the country for a day, another 12-month period can start. Given that, under due diligence and sequestration in Scotland, there is a specific reference that prohibits forfeiture, someone who is under due diligence in another country can keep popping a work of art in and out of Scotland for a day every 12 months, thereby avoiding their own country's laws. In addition, the bill absolutely excludes seizing works of art that are part of a criminal investigation even if they had on them fingerprints or blood that might be of use in that investigation.

I have concerns about the bill. I hope that we will be able to convey them to the House of Lords and that it will add them to its deliberations.


18 January 2007

S2M-5337 Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 18 January 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5337, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees that the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill be passed.

... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I, too, am tempted to rip up my script and to see what happens. Today's stage 3 has, in fact, been finely scripted. The fact that we had only 65 amendments at stage 3 for a substantial bill suggests that the Criminal Proceedings etc (Reform) (Scotland) Bill might be a model from which we can learn and which, hopefully, we can replicate. Stage 3 proceedings for some other bills have involved hundreds of amendments—indeed, it has been known for there to be more than 1,000 amendments to a bill. That indicates not only a degree of consensus on this bill but, more critically, a degree of engagement by all parties.

I was slightly surprised—I might have missed this—that the minister did not thank John McInnes, who was the moving spirit behind much of what is happening. Perhaps we will hear that later. I think that John McInnes was misled by accountants as far as JPs were concerned, but we have rescued that matter and we have reinvented the JP court for another generation. I think that there is widespread welcome for that across the chamber.

The key thing that we seek to do in the bill is to move people out of courts, by ensuring that they can be dealt with directly by the fiscal, and, of course, out of prison, through the use of fines enforcement officers and other measures. Broadly, there is support across the chamber for that. Accordingly, at decision time—which might be somewhat earlier than scheduled—we will support the bill.

Let us examine the tests that we should apply later to determine whether the bill has been successful. The bill promises tighter conditions and increased penalties for breach of bail. Given that the public have certainly been concerned—perhaps on an ill-informed basis—about the way in which the bail system works, it would be widely welcomed if the bill could deliver improvements in that area.

With regard to undertakings, we are not wholly convinced that the bill will deliver as much as people have suggested. However, we will give the proposal a fair wind by supporting it and seeing what happens.

If there is a reduction in the number of people who fail to appear in court because people know that trials in absence will be part of the way in which they might be dealt with, we will know that there has been success in that regard. I continue to have an instinctive discomfort about trial in absence, but I recognise that, practically, we have to engage with it.

There is further extension of the use of electronics to sustain, support and improve the efficiency of the system in a variety of ways. I am not sure that everyone in the criminal justice system understands some of the limitations of using e-mail to engage with the public, which arise from the fact that we cannot directly control the public's end of the e-mail system. However, within the criminal justice system, e-mail is valuable because the internal system can be controlled in a stable way and we can always be sure of exactly what is going on.

The fiscal's role will become more important. That will be quite a challenge for fiscals. There will be an increased use of fiscal fines and fiscal compensation orders. I have spoken about some of my reservations in that area and have had a degree of reassurance from ministers in that regard. I shall be watching carefully to see how the system works in practice.

I retain substantial discomfort about the issue of deemed acceptance. We will know whether it is a problem and whether I am right to have some discomfort about the issue in several years' time rather than a few months' time.

I welcome the fact that MSPs, among others, will no longer be able to play the system and cost the prison service huge amounts of money by choosing, for the sake of gesture politics, to go to prison instead of paying their fines.

I welcome the fact that we have engaged with and sought to reform the summary justice system. It is the core of our court system. I wish the reforms success, but we will watch certain aspects of them sceptically. I congratulate all who have been involved in the reforms.


11 January 2007

S2M-5336 Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 11 January 2007

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

... ... ...

Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5336, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Custodial Sentences and Weapons (Scotland) Bill.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is appropriate that I start by referring to Margaret Mitchell's concluding remarks concerning previous attempts to address the issue of early release. On three separate occasions in the chamber, I asked Annabel Goldie to tell me the price of the change that she proposed, but on each occasion she was unable to do so. It is difficult to support proposals that do not have a price on them, even if one thinks that the policy position that they support should be pursued. I suggest to my Conservative friends—I take the risk of describing them thus—that they consider the wider implications of proposals and avoid knee-jerk reactions.

SNP members have a number of significant criticisms of the detail of the bill, which we will pursue at stage 2 and, if necessary, beyond. However, we have no doubt that the fundamental question that we should address when considering how to vote at 5 o'clock is, does the bill meet a need? The answer, without question, is yes. I say that, of course, with regard to part 3 of the bill, which deals with knife crime and on which I will comment later. However, I also say it with regard to the provisions on sentencing. The existing system has fallen into disrepute and is in need of reform.

Phil Gallie: I take the member back to the point that he made earlier about costing and to the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997, which the SNP supported. A money bill, giving the costs, went through with the 1997 act and answered the questions that the member has asked.

Stewart Stevenson: Phil Gallie makes a fair point. However, the costs today are of course substantially different from the costs that applied at that time, for a whole variety of reasons. When discussing the matter with Annabel Goldie, I even suggested that the costs might come to £100,000 per cell place, in an attempt to draw out of her her view as to what they might be. Answer came there none—and I am sorry about that. Phil Gallie's liberal credentials in the debate have been substantially enhanced—up to the point when he told us that he joined Bill Walker in voting. Even without knowing the vote, I immediately know that liberal credentials could have formed no part of any vote that Bill Walker was involved in.

Will the bill rebuild public confidence? That is the question. When a judge makes a statement of sentence at the end of a trial, they must—after the bill is passed—be able to deliver absolute clarity to those members of the public who are present, be they victims or spectators, and to the press, if they are present, so that someone can note in their diary the fact that the person who committed the offence, of which some member of the public or their relative or friend was a victim, will not be out before such-and-such a date. That is probably the test that the public will apply to that aspect of the bill. There is scope in the bill, perhaps with some work at stage 2, to deliver on that objective. That is sufficient cause to support the principles encompassed in the bill.

We have to consider what happens when the gates of the prison open and the prisoner is released into the wider community. The bill describes very well what we should be trying to do. Section 36, on curfew licences, states:

"the Scottish Ministers must have regard to the need to—

(a) protect the public at large,

(b) prevent re-offending by the prisoner, and

(c) secure the successful re-integration of the prisoner into the community."

I suggest that that describes extremely well the whole purpose of what we should be trying to do under the bill—although those words happen to appear at that particular point in the bill just because of the draftsman's construction. Those are good tests to apply to the whole bill.

Let me apply that test to the 15-day sentence threshold. The minister helpfully told us that only two prisoner places, on average, are occupied by people who are sentenced to fewer than 15 days. The threshold is set at 15 days because that is the period during which one can do a basic assessment of the needs of the prisoner and build a programme to assist with their rehabilitation, thus serving the purposes that are set out in the bill, to which I referred. If it takes that long—if people are to go to prison at all—they should go for that 15-day period, so that we can assess their needs. On the other hand, if their crime is not sufficient to justify their going to prison for that period, we should not send them to prison at all. That is a simple point.

I wish to consider one or two aspects of the part of the bill that deals with knives. The bill covers issues to do with knife dealers. Those who wish to use a weapon for nefarious purposes and who consciously seek one to inflict harm may acquire their knives by other means. It appears that auctions can provide a way for knives to be commercially disposed of without a licence. Knives will still be carried. We must turn some focus to the issue of people carrying them and how we deal with that adequately, as well as to the issue of supplying knives, which the bill so helpfully addresses.

I thank the Law Society of Scotland for extending my vocabulary. Given that I am not a lawyer, I had not met the word "obtemper" before, but I shall treasure it from now on. Obtemper is a super word and I shall try to use it on as many occasions as possible. I have said obtemper three times so far. The Scottish National Party supports the bill.


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