Friday, September 21, 2007

Former First Minister Henry McLeish to oversee justice policies

Former First Minister Henry McLeish, who resigned due to a close rental encounter with well known legal firm of Digby Brown, which has still never fully been explained, has been given a job to oversee the way in which courts handle a change in sentencing policy ...

Whatever next ?

The Herald reports :

Henry McLeish to take on role overseeing justice policies

ROBBIE DINWOODIE, Chief Scottish Political Correspondent

Former first minister Henry McLeish spoke of his pride last night at taking on the job of overseeing the way courts handle a change in sentencing policy.

Mr McLeish, a lifelong Labour politician who recently described himself as a "small N" nationalist, was accepting a second post from the new SNP government, having agreed to serve as a member of the broadcasting commission that is looking at the way the industry is operating.

"It's an enormous challenge to look at this issue and I am delighted I have been given that chance," Mr McLeish said of his new role. He said there was a real challenge to explain to the public the whole issue of penal policy. Recent legislation had made a start on the issue, but it was clear for the general public it remained one of the biggest issues.

"I am just delighted to be asked to play a role in terms of looking at all the issues," he said. "It is an enormous challenge and privilege to serve government, no matter what that government is."

The former Labour leader is expected to report back with the commission's findings by the end of June next year.

During a Holyrood debate on penal policy, Kenny MacAskill, Secretary for Justice, made the announcement: "I'm happy to be able to tell parliament that one of its former first ministers, Henry McLeish, has agreed to chair the commission. He has the blend of skills and experience this testing role will require."

As well as Mr McLeish's spell in the top job, the former Fife Central MSP was also justice minister between 1997 and 1999, which included responsibility for prisons.

Mr MacAskill said the commission will consider how imprisonment is currently used, and how it fits with the Scottish Government's wider objectives. The group is also being tasked with helping to raise the public profile of the issue, and the impact of early release provisions of the Custodial Sentences and Weapons Act 2007.

The minister reiterated the SNP's commitment to ensuring future prison projects are operated and managed by the public sector. He questioned why recorded crime has fallen 5% in the last decade, but the prison population has gone up 15% during the same period.

"We refuse as a government to believe the Scottish people are inherently bad, or that there is genetically any reason why we should be locking up twice as many offenders as Ireland or Norway," he added.

"Community penalties are seen as soft but three quarters of those sent to prison for under six months reoffend within two years, compared with only 42% of those given community service."

Mr MacAskill said it was time for a rethink over sentencing: "A short custodial sentence for a minor offence, giving the offender no opportunity to pay something back for the wrong that they have done, does not in our view constitute a smart sentence."

Labour justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill claimed the SNP's real intention was to move from "short-term spells of custody to wholesale community sentencing".

No comments: