Why we need Liberal Democrats: Consensual Stop and search of under 12s in Scotland halted

Police stop and searchThe Scottish Liberal Democrats aren’t in Government at the moment. Despite that, the small Parliamentary group has had quite an impact in the past 3 years. Willie Rennie has had Salmond squirming at First Minister’s Questions over his associations with Rupert Murdoch and has been pivotal in securing extra funds for colleges, childcare and free school meals.

Back in January, it came to light that 500 children under 10 had been stopped and searched by Police in 2010. That’s bad enough. Last year that figure was just 88 short of 3000.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson Alison McInnes was on this straight away and has been campaigning for change ever since, backed strongly by Willie Rennie. They’ve raised it at every opportunity in Parliament and devoted party of their single Opposition Day to condemning the Government’s position. The SNP Justice Secretary, “Clear Desk” Kenny MacAskill, who thinks everything is an operational matter for everyone else, has been utterly nonchalant on the issue.  Any liberal in that position would be instinctively concerned at a system in which up to half a million Scots were subjected to unregulated Police searches, 2/3 of which yielded no result. Many of these are completely unregulated and have no statutory underpinning whatever. They rely on people, including children, consenting to being searched, but no proper records are kept in these circumstances. You have to wonder how an 8 year old is supposed to give informed consent.

Last month a Scottish Police Authority review of stop and search made a series of recommendations to better regulate the practice.

Yesterday, some progress was made when Police Scotland told a Holyrood Committee in response to a question from Alison McInnes that it was ending consensual stop and searches on under 12s. The BBC reports:

Police Scotland is to end the practice of consensual stop searches on children under the age of 12.

Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson made the announcement to a Holyrood committee. He also announced a pilot scheme in Fife in which the parents of all children subject to stop and search would be given a letter explaining why. There were 640,000 stop searches last year, with 25,000 involving children. The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is currently eight – one of the lowest in Europe. Mr Mawson’s comments to the Scottish parliament committee appeared to indicate that the change to stop search procedures would cover those under eight. Police Scotland later clarified that these searches would end for all children under 12.

Alison welcomed the move but signalled that this was just a start:

I am delighted that after months of pressing the authorities for change to protect children Police Scotland have finally conceded that the position was indefensible. 

This is a victory for children and their rights. We’ve argued all along for them to be protected. This acceptance of the problems of voluntary stop and search demonstrates change is required. That change cannot stop here.

Nor can further change be confined to this issue. Other issues that MacAskill is not bothered about include excessive use of solitary confinement on vulnerable prisoners and excessive use of armed and mounted police. It’s good that we have Alison McInnes to stand up for justice. She does more for justice and civil liberties as a member of a small Parliamentary group than the Justice Secretary in possession of a parliamentary majority.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Caron, Sorry, not read all your article yet. But could you draw Nick Clegg’s attention to your comment about the Scottish Parl group having an effect in a minority position. You DO NOT NEED a place in the administration to have significant influence, at all levels of governance, despite his contention otherwise. Willie Rennie knew this very well from his time in North Cornwall, where a minority group of Lib Dems had significant policy influence over the (always) Independent “controlled” former North Cornwall District Council.

  • Richard Dean 20th Jun '14 - 11:24am

    Anyone who has grown up in a really rough area is likely to wonder what the fuss is about, and whether the LibDems are solid on the question of knife crime, for example. Some very young children can actually be pretty unpleasant to other very young children. Remember James Bulger? He was just the tip of the iceberg in some communities.

    It also seems rather concerning that the assumption made here is that stopping the police from doing something to some person is equivalent to protecting that person. Do LibDems really think the police are the bad guys? While there may certainly be issues here, blanket condemnation of the police does not seem a responsible way forward.

  • Charles Rothwell 20th Jun '14 - 12:23pm

    To be fair to Nick (I am struggling as well) and others who were totally in favour of full-government coalition in 2010, it was of course what the Party and its predecessors had been advocating since 1945 so in my view it would have been very difficult to have repeated 1924 or 1977 and have supported a minority government (and look how both of those ended for the Party (especially 1924, which finally drove the Liberals completely into third place for generations to come and which one can well imagine Cameron would have loved to try and repeat when calling a snap election (“Give us the tools to finish the job!”) after a year or so of LD support for a minority government. The LDs could have been portrayed as “unpatriotic” and holding back real reform (like the bedroom tax or ESA!) while Labour would still have been in total disarray after the collective disaster of the Blair/Brown years. Politics is the art of the possible and I do not think you can fully prescribe how to behave in advance (entering government or only providing support) but need to study the actual electoral outcomes/environment as it actually exists at any time. What I DO believe you need to do is to stick totally/100% with issues/policies you have made absolutely key planks of your manifesto/electoral campaign and that, if you abandon them, you are really in very serious trouble indeed (as has always been true, but is vastly more so in the current age with the more or less total disconnect between Westminster, town halls etc and millions of voters in this country (especially England) at present). In terms of knife crime, I am fully behind the Parliamentary Party’s opposition to the kind of knee-jerk, populist, simplistic measures proposed by Tory MPs in the wake of the stabbing of the Leeds teacher. That may be good enough for ‘Daily Mail’ or ‘Sun’ readers but not for a party with a conscience and able to think beyond the next screaming headline.

  • Richard Dean 20th Jun '14 - 12:27pm

    Could we have a bit of moderation on this thread please? It’s really an abuse to plaster every thread with anti-Nick comments, and especially to repeat them! True LibDems would surely know better.

  • Charles Rothwell 20th Jun '14 - 12:30pm

    Apologies to everyone, as I seemed to have mucked up my second posting!

    This was a reply to Richard saying I agreed with much of what he says and the need for everyone to support the police as much as possible but while also taking on board what Caron says about the need for supervision and restriction where necessary (e.g. from what I have heard about the use of ‘stop and search’ in parts of London as well?) (I then concluded with what (for some reason!) has turned out to be the final sentence of a reposting of my first response!) In terms of knife crime in general, I am fully behind the Parliamentary Party’s opposition to the kind of knee-jerk, populist, simplistic measures proposed by Tory MPs in the wake of the stabbing of the Leeds teacher. That may be good enough for ‘Daily Mail’ or ‘Sun’ readers but not for a party with a conscience and able to think beyond the next screaming headline.

    (Is this my PC’s way of telling me it is time for lunch?)

  • Thought I was being moderate, Richard. I don’t oppose anything, just because proposed by NC. I also agree very definitely with Charles Rothwell that you cannot decide in advance what your preferred or most effective tactics would be. What I was saying was that NC had tried to make such a strong defence of the coalition, that you could not influence outcomes without “being in power”. Caron was kind enough to bring this issue up, where Willie and his minuscule group of colleagues in the Scottish Parliament had had significant influence. It was a point of political tactics I was supporting, not even the substantive issue, which I have not considered, and without fully reading up, not able to comment on.

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