Building a New Scotland: Justice in an independent Scotland

This paper sets out the Scottish Government's vision for justice in an independent Scotland.


This paper, the thirteenth in the ‘Building a New Scotland’ series, sets out the Scottish Government’s proposals for justice in an independent Scotland. The full publication provides more detail on the proposals, an analysis of the evidence that informs them, as well as references to sources.

This paper focuses on Scotland’s justice system, which is already largely devolved, and sets out the benefits that the full powers of independence could bring. Scotland’s distinctiveness as a legal jurisdiction long pre-dates devolution and was preserved in the Acts of Union 1707. The justice system already has its own independent judiciary, courts, prosecution service, tribunals,and other justice agencies, as well as its own legal profession. In addition there are also separate prison, police, and fire and rescue services.

Independence would mean that Scotland could take all the decisions in justice areas that are currently reserved and that policy and operational decisions were all located within Scotland. This would create opportunities for more focused and creative action on some of the most challenging issues facing our society such as drugs, gambling, and organised crime, with decisions attuned to Scotland’s specific circumstances and needs.

An independent Scotland would also be an open, engaged and positive international partner able to play a key role in justice issues across borders. Through cooperation with our

international partners, an independent Scotland would advance our shared objectives, playing our full part in addressing global challenges particularly around counter-terrorism, cyber crime and serious organised crime.

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Approach to justice

The Scottish Government has set out a clear Vision for Justice in Scotland, which is of a just, safe and resilient country. Over the years there has been substantial improvement in many areas across the justice system. There is much of which Scotland can be proud, with more work to be done as shown in our ambitious delivery plans.

In an independent Scotland we would have the full range of policy and operational tools needed to keep the people of Scotland safe, building on our strong record of reducing crime and keeping people safe from harm. This government’s commitment to a human rights-based approach would extend across all areas of justice ensuring the rights of the people of Scotland would be upheld in line with the highest international standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights.

Our justice system would continue to focus on prevention, early intervention, and on rehabilitation as key aspects of the policy approach. In addition, embedding a person-centred, trauma-informed approach would remain a priority to help reduce victimisation and tackle violence against women and girls.

Making a difference

Independence is about more than building the structures needed for a functioning state. This paper highlights a number of opportunities arising from independence that would provide new opportunities for Scotland to take a different approach, in areas such as serious organised crime, firearms and human trafficking.

Independence would allow us to extend our public health approach to violence reduction, where we focus on prevention – just as it is better to vaccinate against a disease, it is better to prevent violence happening than react once it has occurred. This approach would be extended into currently reserved areas like drug policy reform. Our proposals also show how policy and operational expertise would be brought together to tackle major threats in a way that focuses on the specific challenges facing Scotland, and how the security and intelligence capability needed to combat sophisticated threats from terrorism and cyber attacks would be developed.

Strengthening cooperation

The Scottish Government’s vision is for an independent Scotland to apply to join the EU as soon as possible after independence. Re-joining the EU would ensure that Scotland could enjoy the benefits of access to those systems and networks that were lost following Brexit.

With independence, Scotland would be able to represent itself on the international stage, with a seat at the table at the Council of Europe, United Nations and Interpol. Through cooperation with our international partners, an independent Scotland would be able to advance our shared objectives, playing our full part in addressing global challenges.

We would build on the existing, successful model of cooperation with authorities in other parts of the UK and the relationships that already exist. Our separate legal system and distinct criminal justice system mean that there are already arrangements concerning how our police and prosecutors cooperate across the existing jurisdictional borders between Scotland and England and Northern Ireland.


Scotland has, since medieval times, had its own legal and justice system. We have many strengths and successes to build on, which provide confidence that we can add the remaining elements we would need to deliver fair and effective justice in an independent Scotland.

The Scottish Government has set out a clear vision of a just, safe, resilient Scotland, and set out an ambitious programme of reform to be delivered in collaboration with key partners across the justice sector.

With independence this ambitious programme of reform would also extend into areas where the UK Government currently retains control. The current arrangements can restrict the ability to align policy, legislation and delivery to fully address Scotland’s specific needs and circumstances.

Independence would allow us to build on our current relationships, both within the UK and internationally, and forge new ones, working with nations as equals on our shared justice goals.



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