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Parliamentary Report for the 19th – 23rd April, 2010

2010 April 27
by Mary Munro

Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body - 2011


The Justice Committee continued its consideration of Stage 2 amendments to the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill. It considered Trish Godman’s (Lab) amendments which would make prostitution illegal and they worked through more amendments on sexual offences and on serious and organised crime. There were a number of justice questions in the Chamber and there was also a private member’s debate about ‘veterans in the criminal justice system&rsquo.; (KM)

The Justice Committee

Stage 2 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill

The Committee continued its consideration of amendments at Stage 2 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill. Below is a summary of the amendments they debated:

Section 27 – Directing serious and organised crime

The Committee continued where they left off last week, considering the definitions used in the sections on serious and organised crime. The Committee were joined by the Minister for Community Safety, Fergus Ewing and his officials. Robert Brown (LD) moved a series of amendments which sought to clarify the definitions contained in the section of the Bill on ‘directing serious and organised crime. He argued that although the sections were well intended, some parts were too wide in scope and others wouldn’t add much to the existing common law in this area. The Government responded to these concerns by mounting its own series of amendments which also sought to add clarity to the definitions in the section. After some brief discussion, Robert Brown withdrew his amendments and the Government’s amendments were agreed to unanimously by the Committee.

Section 28 – Failure to report serious organised crime

Robert Brown said that this section of the Bill was the one that caused the most concern for the Committee, because it does not take a targeted approach and potentially casts the net too widely. His first amendment sought to add clarity to the definitions in this part of the Bill, and his second would make sure that if someone reported serious and organised crime to an official other than a police officer, for example a customs officer, they would not be prosecuted.

Bill Aitken moved an amendment which sought to solve the problem as he saw it that the this section of the Bill would be more likely to prosecute more junior people within an organisation than the so called ‘Mr Bigs’. After listing to lengthy assurances from the Minister who promised to consider the points they raised prior to Stage 3, the two committee members were happy to not move their amendments for the time being and see what the Government proposed.

After section 31

There were a number of amendments which sought to close a loophole in the current law by widening the definition of ‘public place’ that people can be prosecuted for carrying a knife in. This amendment was agreed to unanimously by the Committee.

Section 34 – Extreme pornography

There were a group of Government amendments which clarified the factors that had to be taken into account when considering whether an image was pornographic or not, and they were all agreed to unanimously.

The Committee also agreed to an amendment which would make it compulsory for someone found guilty of possession of extreme pornography and who was sentenced for more than 12 years to be added to the sex offenders register.

After section 34 – Sex offences and prostitution

The Committee unanimously agreed to an amendment which extended the laws on voyeurism to close a loophole in existing law so that someone taking a photograph up someone’s clothing (usually a woman’s skirt), would be committing an offence. They also agreed an amendment which increased the maximum penalty attached to a number of prostitution related offences. The Government argued that the penalties for ‘living on the earnings of prostitution’ was out of date and did not offer adequate deterrence, and the Committee agreed to this amendment unanimously.

The Committee then heard from Trish Godman MSP (Lab), who moved forward with her campaign to make prostitution illegal. She said that her amendments were different from others in this part of the Bill, in that they sought to challenge the acceptance of prostitution rather than target trafficked or exploited women. She said that the onus had to be on tackling the demand for prostitution, and she dismissed those who argued that her policies would push prostitution underground thus jeopardising the safety of women, by saying ‘If the punter can find women indoors, so can the services and so can the police.’ She also argued against those who said that it should be regarded as women’s choice if they want to enter into prostitution, saying that many of these women are not in a position to make that choice freely.

Margo MacDonald (Ind) also joined the Committee and she spoke against Ms Godman’s amendments, saying they had no place in this Bill which was not intended to cover this issue, and over which there had been no consultation. She said that she had only lodged her own amendments because she thought “balance was required” and not because she thought they should be included in the Bill, and she would be happy to withdraw them if Ms. Godman’s amendments were not agreed to. She said that the much vaunted Swedish approach which criminalises those who buy sex, has in fact not resulted in an end to prostitution in Sweden, which shows that there is no panacea for those who wish to end prostitution. She argued for an approach which would make it safer for those who sell sex, and argued that the Government needed to instigate an investigation into indoor prostitution, where most of it now takes place.

Richard Baker (Lab) joined the Committee and he spoke in favour of Trish Godman’s amendments, saying that although they may not be a panacea, they would go some way to dealing with the “misery and exploitation” that exists around prostitution for so many women.

There were discussions in the Committee with some members supporting Trish Godman’s amendments in theory, though having some difficulty with the technicalities of them, and others thinking they would be unworkable and not offering any support. Members agreed that the evidence the Committee had heard on this issue at a previous meeting was very mixed on the most appropriate way to deal with prostitution, and most also agreed that more consultation and scrutiny should be held before making such a significant change to the law in this area.

The Committee accordingly unanimously voted against Trish Godman’s amendment and Margo McDonald’s amendment was withdrawn.

Section 35 – People trafficking

The Government moved a series of technical amendments which tightened the proposals in the Bill relating to people trafficking, which were all agreed to.

After section 36

Two government amendments which inserted new sections into the bill to create two new statutory offences relating to fraud were also agreed to unanimously.

After section 37

The Government inserted a group of amendments in order to end the antiquated laws of sedition and seditious libel, which mean that in theory every time a journalist or a comedian attacks or insults the Government or Crown, they are liable to be arrested. The Minister said that although this would not happen in current day United Kingdom, the existence of these laws on the statute books is used as a convenient excuse for repressive regimes worldwide to have and to use their own. These was also passed unanimously.

Bill Aitken also agreed to not move his amendments in relation to ‘double jeopardy’, after having received assurances from the Minister since the last meeting that the Government will legislate separately after a consultation process on this issue.

You can read the full transcripts of the meeting on the Official Report.

Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee

Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Bill

The Committee took evidence on the Bill at Stage 1 from:

Judith Bell, Children’s Hearings Training Officer, University of St Andrews

Barbara Reid, Children’s Hearings Training Officer, University of Glasgow

Ian Hart, Chairman, and Alistair Hamilton, Depute Chairman, Children’s Panel Chairs’ Group

David Forsyth, Chair, Joint Central Children’s Panel Advisory Committee

Iain Montgomery, Clerk to the Children’s Panel Advisory Committee Glasgow

Netta Maciver, Principal Reporter, Malcolm Schaffer, Head of Practice and Policy, and Alison Wright, Authority Reporter for the Western Isles, Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration.

The Official Report is not online at the time of posting, but you will be able to access it shortly, along with all the documents relating to the Bill, on the Committee’s homepage.

The Chamber

Questions

The Health of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al–Megrahi

During a question for the Cabinet Secretary, George Foulkes (Lab) argued that the Scottish Government should put the medical records relating to Mr Al–Megrahi in the public domain given that it has now been eight months since he was released, and there are reports from Libya that his health is improving, that he is working on his autobiography and that he has welcomed more than 30,000 visitors to his home.

His point was taken further by Bill Aitken (Con), who argued in a supplementary question that the need to see the medical evidence was now ‘absolutely compelling’, given that the medical prognosis was in fact given in July last year, now nine months ago.

The Cabinet Secretary replied that all medical reports are private and confidential, no matter who they are written about, and that to change this would require primary legislation which falls beyond the jurisdiction of the Scottish Parliament.

In a further supplementary question, Christine Grahame (SNP) argued that evidence which has come to light since Mr Al–Megrahi’s release, prompts the need for an urgent new inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing. The Cabinet Secretary said this Government would comply with any investigation that was launched.

You can read this question in the Official Report

Rape Conviction Rate

Johann Lamont (Lab) asked the Government about recent figures which show that rape conviction rates are their lowest since 1984. She said that there is no reduction in the numbers of women asking for support from the charity Rape Crisis, and that seven out of ten women can now expect to have their sexual or medical history introduced in evidence in rape cases. She argued further that the Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence) (Scotland) Act 2002 seems to be having the opposite intention that it intended and that victims of rape should be able to present themselves in courts as they seem currently unable to defend themselves.

The First Minister replied that there had been two recent major changes to the way the law is prosecuted in this area, which need time to demonstrate their impact. The first is the review carried out by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in 2006 which resulted in 50 recommendations, which were fully implemented by summer last year. The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 also sought to modernise the law in this area, and will come into effect later this year. He also said he would pass on Ms Lamont’s comments to the Lord Advocate and that the Government would consider them. He added that the Scottish Law Commission are currently looking at the Moorov doctrine which, if reformed, might help in prosecutions in which there is limited corroboration.

You can read this question in the Official Report
.
Debate on Veterans in the Criminal Justice System

There was a private members debate at the end of Thursday’s business, lead by Angela Constance (SNP). The motion debated was:

That the Parliament notes with concern the recent survey and anecdotal evidence that suggests that a large number of veterans become involved in the criminal justice system; recognises that trauma, mental health problems and substance abuse related to combat can often be a root cause of veterans offending; believes that, while no person is above the law and some veteran crimes cannot be linked to their experiences in the forces, prison is not the best place to deal with such deep-seated personal issues; considers that the men and women from across Scotland, including Livingston, who serve in the armed services make great sacrifices on Scotland’s behalf and that more assistance should be available for veterans who are at risk of offending or who become involved in the criminal justice system, and believes that, as a first step, a thorough study should be carried out to gain an accurate estimate of the number of veterans in prison, on probation or serving community sentences in Scotland.

You can read the full debate in the Official Report, or watch it on Holyrood.TV.

Written Questions

There were questions this week about the number of offences prosecuted for wasting police time, about the management by local authorities of serious and violent offenders, and about the newly published review of the drugs courts and youth courts. There was a question about fighting knife crime, and about the number of hospital admissions caused by knife crime, about the number of direct measures issued for charges of assault, a question about how many prosecutions for licensees there have been for breaking the licensing laws. There was a further question about breaking the licensing laws, and about correspondence received by the Government in relation to their plans for minimum pricing of alcohol, and about what research has been carried out on the potential affects that minimum pricing policy would have on whisky exports.

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