Scottish National Party manifesto 2007
Department of Justice
Scottish families and communities can be safer. Our new approach will see more police on Scottish streets. We believe that this more visible police presence will reassure communities and deter the criminals. It is an investment that will provide wider benefits and will be a key element of the SNP’s justice plans.
We will place responsibility at the heart of the department’s activities. Individuals must accept that their actions have consequences. People are tired of excuses for bad behaviour and it is time that we dealt firmly and effectively with the crime and anti-social behaviour that disrupts the lives of too many of our citizens.
Scotland as a whole and Scotland’s government must also take responsibility for all our communities and seriously address the issues that are too often the driving force behind – never a justification for – crime and anti-social behaviour – drink, drugs and deprivation.
It is a phrase tarnished by 10 years of disappointment, and yet it remains true today – we must address crime and the causes of crime.
A stronger focus on safer communities. More police on local streets.
There is no doubt we could be doing more to fight crime and make Scotland’s communities safer. Creating a safer Scotland will be a top priority for the Department of Justice, with all our actions focused on cutting crime and reducing the fear of crime.
It is essential that we have sufficient police on local streets. That’s why we will set out plans in our first Budget for Scotland for 1000 more police and will encourage Chief Constables to focus these new resources on community policing. We want to see these new police officers becoming part of the fabric of communities and through local knowledge and by building strong relationships with families and businesses in the local area, they will be in a better position to deter crime, solve crime and make you and your family feel safer as you go about your daily business.
Visible policing plays a vital role in reducing the fear of crime, which can be as destructive as the level of crime, which is why we are putting the emphasis on front line police.
Increased public protection
Guns, air weapons and the Protection of local communities
There are too many guns – and in particular airguns – in Scotland and too many Scottish communities where these weapons cause fear and real harm. Where the Liberal/Labour Executive have failed to act and passed the buck to Westminster, we will seek specifically Scottish solutions.
Current government proposals are entirely inadequate to address this serious problem in Scotland. It is no longer good enough for Scotland to sit back and wait for our neighbours to decide on a solution. Instead Scotland must take responsibility itself.
An SNP government will begin early negotiations with the government in London to have powers over firearms repatriated to Scotland. This will free our parliament to produce legislation that deals with specific firearms issues. In particular, we propose a move away from the piecemeal legislation of today with a consolidated Firearms Act designed for Scottish needs and Scottish circumstances.
We need determined action to combat the dangers of airgun misuse. It is not enough to simply restrict the sale of airguns. We will introduce strict conditions on who can acquire airguns and where they can be used. An SNP led government will introduce a strict licensing scheme, covering the sale, purchase and use of airguns. This is the only effective way of dealing with this problem.
Sex offenders and the protection of young Scots
We propose a new approach to strengthen the current system for dealing with serious sex offenders in our communities. We believe the protection of young Scots is the top priority and favour new rights for communities to be told when a paedophile poses a threat.
If a dangerous sex offender goes underground we will ask the police and local Procurator Fiscal to take the lead and do what is necessary to apprehend. This will include releasing the name and photograph of the offender to the community.
If a child goes missing, then there will be a tough response with sex offenders in the area visited, and if necessary premises searched, without a warrant.
There will be a traffic light system, with the police and Procurator Fiscal able to trigger a ‘red alert’ in a variety of circumstances in which case there would be all necessary steps to protect the local community. For amber, where there is some concern about a sex offender’s behaviour, key organisations in a community will be informed. For example, these might include the local schools or a local swimming pool. The green light would only be applied for the range of less serious offences and where there was no assessed risk. The current arrangements would apply in these cases.
More say for communities in anti-social behaviour orders
Labour say vandalism is anti-social behaviour, we believe it is a crime. We believe anti-social behaviour orders should not be used when the criminal justice system is a more appropriate way of dealing with offenders.
Putting more police into local communities and our new focus on tough community punishments will help move the focus more effectively onto police deterrence and strong action against low level criminal activities that reduce the quality of life for too many people across Scotland.
In government we will look to review and improve the working of the system of ASBOs and as part of this, will consult on giving revamped community councils a greater role in the process of applying for anti-social behaviour orders.
Tackling the causes of crime
A clamp down on underage sales
It’s time to get tough on the irresponsible sale of alcohol. Alcohol fuels the anti-social behaviour that blights too many communities. The SNP will hit hard off-licenses that sell to and adults who buy for under-18s. There are no excuses for the sale of booze to young Scots. The sale of alcohol to underage Scots will result in the loss of a premises’ license and buying alcohol for under-18s will lead to prosecution.
The Home Office estimates that 40% of violent crime, 78% of assaults and 88% of criminal damage offences were committed when the offender was under the influence of alcohol. For many communities the biggest problems relate to excessive drinking on the streets and not the more regulated alcohol consumption in local bars.
As long as retailers are allowed to use deep discounting of alcohol as a method of undercutting competitors and luring customers into stores over consumption of alcohol and frequent binge drinking will remain a part of our culture. Concrete action is needed in this area if the damage alcohol does to our society is to be reversed.
Extend national licence conditions to the off trade
Irresponsible drinks promotions in pubs and clubs are to be outlawed via national licence conditions set by central government, yet no such action is being taken with regard to the off trade. This anomaly can be rectified by ministers using the powers granted to them to set national licence conditions for the off trade. Such conditions would include the banning of irresponsible drinks promotions – that is those that sell alcohol at very cheap prices and/or large amounts of alcohol at deep discounts.
Strict penalties for supermarkets that flout licence conditions
Of course, if using Licensing conditions to ensure supermarkets sell and promote alcohol in a responsible manner are to be effective, then strict sanctions must be in place for those that flout the law.
The 2005 Licensing Act has introduced both tough sanctions and a proper policing system to ensure pubs and clubs meet their social responsibilities when selling alcohol. Under the Act, each Local Authority must employ Licensing Standards Officers to police the system and ensure publicans are selling alcohol in a responsible manner. Should a pub or a club fail to do so, the Licensing Boards have far reaching powers to clamp down on them, including changing the conditions of the existing licence, suspending the licence for as long as they see fit, or revoking the licence altogether.
However, these powers do not extend to the off trade, meaning supermarkets are free to continue the deep discounting of alcohol. Under the regulations of the Licensing Act, the Scottish Executive has the power to extend both the policing role and the Licensing Board sanctions to include the off-license trade. In government the SNP will use the powers available to, first, extend the role of the Licensing Standards Officers to include the policing of supermarkets and second, widen the jurisdiction of the Licensing Boards so they can impose the same sanctions on supermarkets that sell alcohol irresponsibly as they can with pubs and clubs.
Going after organised crime
The SNP in government will come down hard on serious and organised crime.
While the steps forward already taken through the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency are welcome, our concern is that current efforts are too one dimensional. Looking to the most successful models overseas it is clear Scotland would benefit from a more joined up approach, with the full range of necessary expertise brought together as part of a new Serious Crime Taskforce.
Our proposal would add new strength and depth to current efforts, with police investigations supported by dedicated prosecutors and specialists including forensic accountants, IT and corporate law experts.
We want to build the broadest and most effective enquiry and prosecution team to maximise the chance of success in any investigation and success in identifying and seizing the assets of these criminal organisations.
Offering an escape route
As part of our wider commitment to the right intervention we will reinstate the Airborne scheme and also support the further development of work-based mentoring for young Scots, along the lines of the Working Rite model.
The re-offending rate for offenders who took part in the Airborne Initiative was 21%, compared to 79% for those sent to prison. And Airborne proved to be good value for money for the tax payer in comparison to prison. When it was operating at full capacity, Airborne cost £116 per place per week, compared to £574 per week for a prison place at the time.
The SNP strongly supports efforts, such as the Pathfinder programme, to provide young people who risk not reaching their full potential, with opportunities for learning and personal development.
Such early intervention schemes have an important part to play in the wider battle against anti-social behaviour and in government the SNP will look to expand provision in this area by making this a priority area as additional funding emerges.
Ensuring the most appropriate sentencing, punishment and rehabilitation
A Scottish Sentencing Council
Public confidence is an integral part of any well functioning and effective criminal justice system. No matter how well a system operates, if the perception of it amongst the general public is negative then it is fundamentally undermined.
That’s why the SNP will update and improve the current arrangements to provide greater consistency and transparency in the decisions of our courts.
The public are confused by the methods courts use to sentence criminals and believe, often with good reason, that similar offences result in significantly different sentences. Many within the criminal justice system share that belief.
Our solution is to create a new Sentencing Council to provide sentencing guidelines for the Judiciary. This will increase consistency, fairness and transparency in sentencing so that there is increased public confidence that justice is being done.
The final decision on a sentence based on the facts of the case would be for the Judge or Sheriff. The guidelines set by the Council will show the tariff to be applied and the sentence our communities expect to be imposed.
If a Judge or Sheriff wished to impose a sentence outwith the guidelines there would have to be some good reason to justify such an action. They would need to state on the record the specific reasons for doing so and in the few cases where a sentence falls outwith the guidelines it would be subject to Appeal by the Prosecution.
The SNP believes there should be an end to the automatic release of offenders. We support the recent legislation in this area and in government will drive forward this important area of reform.
Tough community punishments
The SNP propose a marked shift away from short custodial sentences to tough community-based punishments. Community based punishment serves the vital purpose of punishing a criminal for their offence, and has the added benefit of the offender repaying his debt to society directly to the community that has been harmed.
In addition, community punishment forces the offender to face up to their underlying problems, meaning re-offending is less likely and making society safer in the long term.
This is considerably harder than sitting in a prison cell for a couple of months, often doing nothing more than learning the ‘tricks’ of the criminal trade.
The prime objective of our reforms will be to tackle re-offending, and therefore cut crime in Scotland and the size of our prison population. To achieve this, we propose a number of practical changes
The presumption will be that an offender given a custodial sentence of less than 6 months will have that sentence turned into an equivalent punishment in the community. However, if an offender commits a further crime while serving a community punishment they will be punished severely. This will involve serving their original sentence in full, plus any sentence given for their later offence, with no prospect of remission.
Although there will be a presumption against short prison sentences, sheriffs must retain independence in sentencing. Therefore if a Sheriff felt that, in an exceptional case, a short sentence was appropriate, perhaps to give an offender a ‘short sharp shock’, that option would remain open. However, the Sheriff will require to state in open court why no alternative community based sentence was viewed as appropriate.
The effect of this reform will be to drastically reduce the number of petty criminals and fine defaulters in our prison system, leaving prison for serious offenders and those that are a threat to the public. Prison workers will be free to concentrate on rehabilitating such offenders, and tax-payers money saved will be directed to areas that genuinely make communities safer.
Fighting crime through rehabilitation
If fewer petty offenders are to be incarcerated, well financed alternatives to custody will be essential if a sheriff is to be able to hand out a suitable punishment that also gives the best chance of rehabilitation.
If sheriffs had a wider selection of alternatives to custody, prison would be kept for those who are a danger to society, while less serious offenders are punished in the community, where rehabilitation is most likely. This will also require investment in social work services and other bodies that work to rehabilitate offenders and offer punishment in the community in a variety of schemes from community service to other disposals.
We will support a range of rehabilitation schemes and in particular increase spending on drug rehabilitation services by 20%.
6 months in prison costs more than 10 times as much as a community service order.
Offenders who serve a community order instead of a custodial sentence are a third less likely to re-offend and four times less likely to end up in custody for a future offence.
In government we will therefore transfer a proportion of savings from reducing our prison population as a result of the new focus on tough community alternatives into rehabilitation and criminal justice social work. Savings will be delivered on a £ for £ basis up to a total of
£35 million to provide a valuable increase in the resources available for these vital community services.
A 5% saving in prisons expenditure will deliver this £35 million increase in services and provide the range of support in the community that will offer additional protection and help direct offenders away from a life of crime.
Clearing space in our court system
We want to see Scotland’s court system working more effectively, with our sheriffs and judges focused on the most serious cases.
We will give consideration to changes to the system for small claims, where decisions are, more often than not, based on questions of fact rather than questions of law. Options for reform will include piloting a fast-track tribunal system or mediation as alternatives to free up court time.
As world trade continues to expand, there will be increasing demand for high quality arbitration services as the preferred method to resolve cross-border commercial disputes.
Scotland, with its international reputation in finance and law is ideally placed to offer world-class arbitration services. With arbitration offering greater flexibility and lower cost than traditional legal processes, an international arbitration service in Edinburgh would be well placed to attract a significant share of this growing market.
In government we will work with Scotland’s legal community to take forward plans to create a Scottish International Arbitration Centre.
The Prison Estate
We are committed to a publicly owned and run prison service. In government, we will use public sector resources and innovative ideas such as Not for Profit Trusts to deliver investment.
We are committed to the long-term future of Peterhead Prison including the rebuilding of the prison and will seek to protect and enhance the valuable resource it provides in dealing with sex offenders in Scotland.
Promoting Equality in Scotland
The SNP supports a written constitution for an independent Scotland to guarantee the rights and liberties of citizens and limit the power of government.
Prior to independence the SNP will not promote or support legislation or policies which discriminate on the grounds of race, disability, age, gender, faith or religion, social background or sexual orientation.
The Act of Settlement 1701 is discriminatory and has no place in a modern society. Accordingly we will seek agreement with the government in London on its repeal.
In government we will pull together the different strands of equality legislation under our control to deliver an integrated equality strategy based on the recognition that discrimination harms people and communities, undermines our economic competitiveness and damages our international reputation.
This will include measures to:
• Ensure that the Disability Equality Duty and Race Equality Duty are implemented effectively
• Assess legislation and public service reforms for impact on equality
• Develop the One Scotland, Many Cultures campaign
• Increase measures to ensure that disabled people are made aware of their rights and service providers are made aware of their responsibilities in making provision for disabled people
• Expand hate crime legislation to protect disabled people, and people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, as recommended by the Working Group on Hate Crimes set up by the Scottish Executive
The right support
Sometimes families need help when there are problems at home. We will work to ensure that parents can access information and support services in every community in Scotland. We will also seek to ensure that support services are more widely available for the families of drug addicts and for the families of those who misuse alcohol.
Involving the wider family in decisions about children can reduce the number of children taken into care. We will work to expand kinship care, where that is possible, and expand family group conferencing from the local authorities which currently use it out to the whole country.
We will develop improved national support for foster carers and make sure better and more responsive support is made available to looked-after children.
Protecting all our children
Children should live in a secure environment, free from fear. Protecting children will be a priority for an SNP government.
We will monitor the implementation and effectiveness of recent legislation on child protection and disclosure and review and amend it if necessary.
We will introduce legislation to improve Scotland’s important and distinctive Children’s Hearing system.
We will make sure that all agencies share information and intervene promptly to identify and support children at risk. And we will review the funding of children’s services to ensure that it meets need and that there is greater integration of service delivery, putting the child at the heart of the system.