Thursday, March 19, 2009

Soft touch Scotland : Justice Secretary MacAskill offers work to criminals instead of court

Soft touch Justice Secretary MacAskill is seeing to it that soft touch Scotland gets that wee bit more soft touch, as ‘minor’ criminals are to be offered work instead of appearing in court.

Perhaps they will be given duties to burn all the Scottish Government’s Cabinet minutes to stop them falling into the hands of freedom of information campaigners.

The Scotsman reports :

'Minor' criminals across Scotland to be offered work instead of court

Published Date: 19 March 2009
By michael howie
home affairs correspondent

OFFENDERS across Scotland will be offered the chance to carry out unpaid work as an alternative to appearing in court, the Solicitor General has signalled.

Frank Mulholland yesterday revealed that four pilot schemes that were testing the use of fiscal work orders would "in all likelihood" be rolled out across the country.

The pilots – which have been running in Dumbarton, Linlithgow, Hamilton and Inverness since last summer – allow procurators fiscal to offer up to 50 hours of unpaid community work to offenders as an alternative to prosecution.

Offenders who accept fiscal work orders are not taken to court and do not receive a criminal record in the usual way, although the fact that an order was accepted is kept on file indefinitely for prosecutors and for up to two years for judges.

But the move away from traditional prosecution for vast amounts of so-called "low-level" crime has been controversial, triggering angry accusations from opposition politicians that the Scottish Government is creating a "soft-touch Scotland".

Fiscals choose from a list of approved local community projects and offenders have so far been given a range of jobs including tending a garden for children with learning disabilities, cleaning a beach and working in charity shops.

The fiscal work orders, introduced by the SNP administration last year, are being offered to both first-time and repeat offenders who have committed a range of crimes, including assault, theft, breach of the peace and vandalism.

"In all likelihood, they will be rolled out across the country," Mr Mulholland told an annual conference in Edinburgh by Sacro (Safeguarding Communities – Reducing Offending).

"The fiscals involved in all four pilot areas are very confident, seeing the positive benefits they have delivered in tackling reoffending, that there will be an extension of work orders," said Scotland's second most senior prosecutor.

More than 200 work orders have so far been carried out.

Mr Mulholland said the use of the orders was part of a "fundamental shift" in the way prosecutors deal with crime.

Scotland has seen a major expansion in the use of alternatives to prosecution. As well as work orders, fiscal fines of up to £3,000 and compensation of £5,000 can now be ordered, as the Scottish Government and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service seek to rely less on sending people to court.

"There has been a fundamental shift in the way prosecutors take decisions – a shift towards what action should be taken rather than whether there should be a prosecution," said Mr Mulholland.

He said this was encouraging prosecutors to be "more creative", by considering court as simply one option, along with "restorative justice" measures, such as work orders, compensation orders and meetings with victims, designed to make criminals face up to their wrong-doing and cut reoffending.

One perceived benefit of alternatives to prosecution is that swift action can be taken without clogging up the courts.

However, Tory justice spokesman Bill Aitken said: "This is all very well but it depends if the work is supervised and enforced – which it is not under the existing community service orders.

"It can be confidently predicted that the pilots will be a wonderful success in order to justify the soft-touch approach which characterises Scottish Government policy," he added.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We welcome early indications of the benefits of the fiscal work order pilots. However, no decision has been made about any extension of the scheme."

MacAskill dismisses 'doom-mongers' and insists 1,000 more police on the way

THE Scottish Government yesterday insisted that police numbers would increase by 1,000 – and rounded on "doom-mongers" who said otherwise.

Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, said a government study estimated that Scotland would have between 17,275 and 17,485 police officers by the end of March 2011.

The forecasted figure compares with 16,234 when the SNP came to power and represented a "substantial" achievement, said the minister. The SNP's 2007 election manifesto committed to 1,000 more police and the party pledged to hit the target over the course of this parliament.

Mr MacAskill said: "This study confounds the doom-mongers who said we would not meet our commitment."

Around 150 additional officers were recruited in 2007-8, and 450 in 2008-9, said the government. A further 201 would be recruited in 2009-10, and the same the following year, making a four-year total of 1,002. The figures came on the eve of a Labour-led Holyrood debate on police numbers. Labour argued the new figures contradicted what the minister had said only a fortnight ago.

Asked in a radio interview if he was saying there will be 17,265 offices by the 2011 election, Mr MacAskill had said "no".

The minister then added: "What we have said we would have are 1,000 additional recruits and we are delivering 1,000 additional recruits that we are funding."

Labour MSP Richard Baker said: "One minute the minister says 'no', the next he says 'yes'. He should act like a justice minister rather than continue with his 'maybes aye, maybes no' approach."

Calum Steele, the Scottish Police Federation's general secretary, said: " The Scottish Police Federation is aware government is delivering the necessary funding (for the extra police officers].

"And I have seen nothing in today's figures which suggests the government is not doing everything in its power to deliver those extra officers."

No comments: