Willie Rennie warns against SNP “dismantling of Scottish justice system”

The other day, someone said in a comment on here that the SNP seemed like a liberal party. I don’t doubt that there are liberals in it, but they are not evident at the higher levels and particularly in regard to anything the Scottish government does in relation to justice.

Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary has presided over a massively disproportionate use of stop and search powers, agreed to appalling overuse of solitary confinement for vulnerable female prisoners, failed to be mortified after a second damning inspection report at Scotland’s women’s prison, Cornton Vale and is now dismantling one of the pillars of Scottish justice with no evidential safeguards in its place. Oh, and let’s not forget the centralisation of the Police Force that has led to successful local policing practice, like the Edinburgh saunas issue, being swept aside. And then you have to look at access to justice and the impact of them closing local courts.

Today, Willie Rennie is telling a gathering of Liberal Democrat activists that a “perfect storm” is brewing in Scottish justice. He’ll say:

The Justice Secretary is gaily presiding over the  wholesale dismantling of our justice system. His devil may care attitude risks irreparable damage to a justice system that has matured over generations.

Scotland’s justice system has been developed over generations securing the confidence of the public.  Yet Kenny Macaskill seems determined to dispense with our mature and effective system in just a few short years.

Shutting 26 local courts, 6 police control rooms and numerous police stations to the public is damage that will be difficult to repair.

Those closures combined with the centralisation of the police, abolition of corroboration and a massive expansion of police stop and search has created weaknesses and flaws where there should be additional safeguards.

At every stage Scottish Liberal Democrats proposed safeguards and solutions. But Kenny MacAskill heeds no one else.

This unhealthy obsession with centralisation will result in the sweeping loss of local knowledge. Dedicated, experienced staff who have served local communities for decades face a Hobson’s choice of jobs losses or uprooting their loved ones hundreds of miles away of a job nothing like the one they are trained to do.

Despite the repeated alarms raised by many voices, SNP Ministers have looked the other way whilst the Justice Secretary marches on. Their unity knows no bounds in the pursuit of their independence plans.

If the SNP were genuinely interested in standing up for Scotland they would step in and stop what seems to be the perfect storm brewing in our widely-respected justice system.

This is a battle between authoritarianism and liberalism that the Independence Referendum won’t resolve. People who want to live in a liberal Scotland have much work to do to win the arguments. It’s good to see Willie Rennie leading that effort.

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

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2 Comments

  • Chris Manners 2nd Feb '14 - 9:51pm

    Given that you’re in the government that oversees the English legal system, I guess this must be very liberal, and becoming more so all the time, right?

    And there aren’t any failing prisons in England?

  • Robin Bennett 3rd Feb '14 - 5:42pm

    Willie is right to highlight the corroboration issue. The argument that it should be abolished in all trials to help achieve more convictions in rape cases does not hold water. The opposition of almost the entire judiciary and the legal profession (apart from the SNP-appointed Lord Advocate and Solicitor General) speaks volumes.

    On centralisation, there will be some efficiency gains, but the Ming Commission proposed new town councils and the Lib Dems should make decentralisation a major plank of its policy platform for the next Holyrood elections. This should include a proper cost/benefit analysis of the court closure programme – including the costs to court users as well as to the Treasury – and a promise to re-open courts where closure is not shown to have been worthwhile

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