Responding to the Academy challenge

I have just left Knox Academy in Haddington where I have been speaking with the Advanced Higher Modern Studies pupils.

As part of their course Advanced Higher Modern Studies students are required to write a dissertation and, in the case of the pupils at Knox Academy, they are writing theirs on various aspects of crime in Scotland.

As a consequence they invited me to the school to be questioned and interviewed on crime in Scotland in general, and on a number of specific types of crime in particular. I was happy to do it, just as I will be in the next few weeks when I am put to the sword at Lockerbie Academy and Stranraer Academy.

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Prison Officers Association Conference

Tomorrow, I will be out of Parliament for most of the day as I will be at the Prison Officer Association (POA) Conference, being held near Peebles, before going on to a seminar in Glasgow about Police Scotland.

At the POA Conference I will be participating in a cross party debate/Q&A session about ‘Next steps’ for Scotland, post-referendum, and on other issues that individual prison officers want to raise.

I will then be making my way to Glasgow to participate on a panel entitled Police Scotland: Good or bad for Scottish Criminal Justice? I will be on the panel alongside Brian McConnachie QC; an as yet unconfirmed speaker from Scottish Human Rights Commission; and Aamer Anwar. We will be speaking on different aspects of Policing in Scotland including human rights, race and operational.

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Your thoughts on justice system safeguards are needed

Under the current legal system, evidence is required from at least two different and independent sources of evidence in support of each crucial fact before a defendant can be convicted of a crime. The Scottish Government wants to abolish this requirement.

I have written here before regarding the serious concerns that were raised by many in the legal establishment and politicians when the Scottish Government brought forward their bill to abolish corroboration without also proposing safeguards to insure that our justice system is a fair one.

As a result of these widespread concerns Kenny MacAskill, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, was forced to establish a review to analyse what additional safeguards would be required were corroboration to be abolished.

That Review, established in February 2014 and led by Lord Bonomy, has now made suggestions as to what safeguards could be put in place. These could involve changes to guidelines for police evidence gathering, confession evidence, jury size and verdicts. And now the Review is asking the public for their views, to help inform its thinking ahead of its final report to the Scottish Government, which is due next April.

It is incredibly important that we have the right checks and balances in place before consideration of a removal of corroboration is decided.

We rely on our justice system in many different ways, and interact with it for a variety of different reasons. And we need to have faith in the integrity of that system.

That is why this review is so important – and why the expert group needs to hear from people across South Scotland.  The thoughts, experiences and opinions that you share can only help the process, and help ensure that the recommendations made in April are the right ones.

The consultation period will run from 14 October to 28 November 2014. During the consultation period, the Review will also be holding public meetings in Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Hamilton.

For more information on the review, the public meetings, and details on how to respond to the consultation click here.

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No more light…

Yesterday’s debate went – to some extent – as expected.

I had set the motion to use some of the limited time Scottish Labour has to debate issues in the Chamber to raise again issues surrounding accountability of the police. The motion focussed on the lack of leadership shown repeatedly by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on issues surrounding policing. As a consequence of the numerous crises handled or caused by the Justice Secretary – particularly his recent demonstration that he either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the issues of concern regarding the accountability and governance being exercised at Police Scotland – the motion did include a call for the Cabinet Secretary to leave the justice portfolio.

As a result, my colleagues and I were accused of trashing police officers, trying to undermine the police and trouble making. I reiterated the issues that I have raised consistently over the last two years in the Chamber, in Committees, in correspondence and in the press -that accountability and effective governance for the police service is crucial and at present is insufficient.

We flagged up these issues as the legislation which created the single police service and single fire service was working through Parliament. Colleagues and I proposed amendments to the legislation to improve local and national accountability, scrutiny and ensure effective governance. These were largely rebuffed or watered down by the Cabinet Secretary.

I can only imagine, therefore, that those accusing me of trouble making have extremely short memories.

Strong governance and effective accountability are essential for policing by consent – our model of policing – to work at its best. That is what has been missing during these last two years. To ignore it is a dereliction of duty and why I believe the Cabinet Secretary should have gone.


Posted in Armed Police on Routine Duties, Debates, Justice, Parliament, Scottish Labour, Shadow Justice Secretary, Single Police Force | Leave a comment

Flooding in New Cumnock

Last night I held a public meeting at the New Cumnock Community Centre about flooding.

This was the third in a serious of meetings which began after numerous and considerable concerns were raised after the severe flooding in New Cumnock on 30 December last year.

The first sought to hammer out exactly what had happened, what caused the flooding and what damage was done. The second was an interim meeting where relevant agencies told the community about their action plan to address the causes. And last night’s meeting was to be an update on progress and to outline what else has to be done to protect local people as we enter the rainier and colder months.

However, on Sunday night there was significant rain fall in New Cumnock, which led to more flooding. This fact gave an added impetus to our meeting. It also showed to what extent the works already carried out have worked – and more importantly what else is required to help this community moving forward.

It was a very productive meeting and I am grateful to all of the representatives from organisations like East Ayrshire Council, TranServe and SEPA who came to update us; and to all the people who came to the meeting, especially those who came despite being affected by Sunday night’s flooding.

I think that we are making real progress; and my office will do all it can to ensure that continues.

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Policing in Scotland

Today Police Scotland have announced that armed police officers will no longer be allocated to routine calls. Armed police officers will now only be deployed to calls where there is a threat to life or to firearms incidents.

I welcome this announcement.

Constituents in South Scotland, along with many other people across the country, have expressed their concerns about police officers – with guns on their hips – being seen dealing with everyday matters.

Last Friday COSLA, the local authority umbrella body, passed a motion opposing the policy of armed officers carrying out routine patrols. This motion was yet more evidence of the concern that exists across Scotland about armed officers on routine duties, and will surely have contributed to the timing of today’s announcement.

As a result of Cosla’s decision, I tabled a question to ask the First Minister at FMQs tomorrow. Although today’s announcement makes the First Minister’s response to my first question predictable, I hope – rather than expect – for a thoughtful response to my main concern about accountability.

There are many issues that need to be addressed:

  • How did we get to a situation where armed police officers were being sent on routine calls?
  • How did we get to a situation whereby armed officers, even in light of today’s announcement, have a standing firearms authorisation?
  • How has it come to pass that this fundamental change in policy has been made without the awareness, and therefore without the scrutiny, of the Scottish Police Authority, the body which was established to scrutinise and ensure good governance and accountability.

The Cabinet Secretary received a private briefing from the Chief Constable over 18 months ago but the Chair of the SPA didn’t have a conversation with the Chief Constable until 25 June this year. Who, if anyone, was holding the Chief Constable to account for this policy change?

There are still a great many questions and I would like at the very least an acknowledgement from the Scottish Government that they understand the seriousness of the issues involved here.

If not tomorrow, Scottish Labour has debating time next Wednesday and I would hope to use at least some of it to raise these issues and questions again.

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Public Meeting on Flooding in New Cumnock

On Monday 6 October, I will be holding a public meeting in New Cumnock Community Centre. The meeting is about local flooding and will be third meeting we have held.

We have representatives from East Ayrshire Council, SEPA and Transerve attending to talk about what has been done already and what is left to do to deal with local flooding.

The meeting will start at 7pm and I hope that we will have as good a turn out as at previous meetings.

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Call for evidence on armed police carrying out routine duties

Do you have a view on armed police officers carrying out routine duties?

If so, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) wants to hear it. The SPA has launched a call for evidence on armed policing – they have invited a wide range of interested parties to submit views and provide evidence. However, they also want members of the public to give their views.

These views will inform the SPA’s recently announced scrutiny inquiry which will assess the public impact of Police Scotland’s decision to allow a number of specially trained armed response vehicle officers to carry visible firearms on routine patrols.

The SPA are seeking views on: 

  • what the level and nature of public concerns are over the current Police Scotland policy in relation to the standing firearms authority;
  • how effectively Police Scotland are engaging with the public and considering the impact on communities in implementing their approach;
  • how Police Scotland can best address any public concerns and provide necessary reassurance to communities, and;
  • what, if any, lessons might be learned around how operational decisions with wider strategic or community impact are communicated to national and local oversight bodies and other key interests.

I am aware of the strong feelings that many constituents have on this issue. I would encourage everyone who wants to express a view to do so. This is such an important issue – there has been a fundamental change the way police operate. Views should have been sought in advance of such a change, not after, but it is important that people have their say.

If you wish to participate, click here for more information. The consultation closes on 17 October 2014.

Posted in Armed Police on Routine Duties, Consultation, Shadow Justice Secretary | Leave a comment

The people have spoken

The campaign surrounding the independence referendum has been intense and energising. It has been at times fierce, but clearly engaging. Never before have we seen such figures of participation in an election or referendum. That participation, of so many millions of voters, has been as inspirational as it has been impressive.

And now the people have spoken, with over 3.6m votes cast, giving clear support for Scotland staying within the United Kingdom. It is important to recognise that a significant number – 1.6m people – voted for Scotland to leave the UK, and that those people will be profoundly disappointed by the result. However, it is also important that with this vote a decision has been made, and a clear one at that. We all need to come together now for the benefit of our country, and the people who live here.

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Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

While the referendum campaign builds to its climax, I wanted to draw attention to another issue.

In the UK 1,600 children aged 15 and under are diagnosed with cancer each year. Cancer is still the single largest cause of death from disease in children and young people in the UK.

Every day, 10 children and young people in the UK hear the shocking news that they have cancer. Treatment normally starts immediately, is often given many miles from home and can last for up to three years.

However, as if it wasn’t difficult enough to have to deal with the diagnosis and treatment – a third of children with cancer experience bullying when they return to school.

This month is Childhood Cancer Awareness month – CLIC Sargent are joining forces with many other charities to raise awareness of the impact that childhood cancer has on families across the UK, and is calling on the public to wear a gold ribbon to show their support for those families coping with childhood cancer.

Although many people do not realise just how difficult it can be, not only emotionally but also financially and logistically to be and to care for a child with cancer – there is overwhelming support that people affected should have access to all the different support that they might need.

CLIC Sargent provides vital emotional, financial and practical support to the thousands of children diagnosed with cancer each year – supporting children and families from diagnosis and through treatment.

The campaign is asking for your support – and to wear a gold ribbon to show that you support the work that is being done to help children with cancer and their families.

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