Consultation on the Draft Public Services Reform (Prison Visiting Committees) (Scotland) Order 2014: Analysis of Written Responses

A consultation on the draft Public Services Reform (Prison Visiting Committees) (Scotland) Order 2014 took place between 4 Oct 13 and 31 Jan 14. A total of 36 written responses were received and analysed. Whilst some respondents expressed support for developments to independent monitoring, areas of concern included the general structure and oversight by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland, and the proposed roles of Monitors.


1.1 This report presents the findings of the analysis of written responses to a Scottish Government consultation on the Draft Public Services Reform (Prison Visiting Committees) (Scotland) Order 2014. The consultation took place between 4th October 2013 and 31st January 2014.

Summary of Section 1

The Scottish Government carried out a consultation on the Draft Public Services Reform (Prison Visiting Committees) (Scotland) Order 2014 between 4th October 2013 and 31st January 2014.

A total of 36 written submissions were received. The most common category of respondent was "Visiting Committees" (VCs), from which 39% of all responses were received. Just over a fifth (22%) of responses were from "local authorities" and just under a fifth (17%) from "criminal justice organisations". Other respondents included: inspection, monitoring or complaints organisations (8%); human rights organisations (6%); individuals (6%); and professional or representative organisations (3%).

The analysis and presentation of the material was qualitative, reflecting the nature of the consultation process and the material received. The methodology involved: identifying overall areas on which comments were made; creating an analysis document with the verbatim material for each area; and carrying out detailed analysis of the material to a series of themes and sub-themes, generated from the data.

This report presents the themes and sub-themes which emerged and the range and depth of views expressed. The full responses are available for inspection on the Scottish Government website[1].


1.2 The Scottish Government is committed to taking forward reform of the system for independent monitoring of prisons to meet its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). In 2012, following prior consultation, the Government commissioned a review of its proposals to improve arrangements for the independent monitoring of prisons, and this was carried out by Professor Andrew Coyle. A report detailing his findings and recommendations was published in January 2013[2].

1.3 Professor Coyle recommended that Visiting Committees (VCs) should be replaced by a new system of voluntary independent prison monitors, to be appointed through a transparent process for specified periods and with a clearly defined role. He made a number of related recommendations, and outlined a number of options for structuring a new system, but did not specify a preferred option. He stated that the implementation of his recommendations would mean that Scotland would have a robust system for independent prison monitoring.

1.4 Following the review, the Scottish Government's proposals to abolish prison VCs and introduce a new system of independent monitoring were published in April 2013. The Government accepted most of Professor Coyle's recommendations, but remitted four of them to an Implementation Group. The group is made up of Scottish Government officials and stakeholders (including the Scottish Prison Service, Association of Visiting Committees [AVC] and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland [HMCIPS]) and is responsible for developing, guiding and implementing the new arrangements.

1.5 A proposed draft Public Services Reform (Prison Visiting Committees) (Scotland) Order was laid before the Scottish Parliament on 4 October 2013, and a revised Explanatory Document was laid in November 2013. The draft Order abolishes prison VCs and creates new roles of Prison Monitors and Lay Monitors. It also changes the statutory role of HMCIPS to bring monitoring of prisons under his oversight (while retaining the HMCIPS inspection functions).

1.6 Under the terms of the draft Order, Prison Monitors and Lay Monitors would be appointed by HMCIPS, who would oversee the independent monitoring of prisons. Prison Monitors would visit prisons at least once a month, and monitor and report on prison conditions and the treatment of prisoners[3]. They would report to HMCIPS and Lay Monitors would assist them in their role.

1.7 The changes would be made by amending the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989 and revoking those parts of the Prisons and Young Offenders Institutions (Scotland) Rules 2011 which related to VCs, and making other consequential amendments.

1.8 The relevant Order-making power in the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Act 2010 is subject to the super-affirmative procedure. This includes a formal consultation process.

1.9 The Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament considered its approach to the draft Order at its meeting on 8th October 2013. It issued a Call for Evidence, to which it received 29 responses. It also took oral evidence from a number of stakeholders in November 2013. A report was published in January 2014[4] which the Scottish Government responded to on 13 March 2014.

1.10 The Scottish Government issued a written consultation on 4th October 2013 to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to comment on the proposed draft Order. The consultation ran until the end of January 2014, and this report presents the findings.

1.11 Once the responses to the consultation have been taken into account, the finalised Order will be laid for approval by resolution of the Scottish Parliament.

The consultation

1.12 The Scottish Government issued a consultation document in October 2013 inviting comments on the draft Order. The document provided an introduction to the process; an explanation of the key provisions of the draft Order; and information about how to respond. Annexes contained the draft Order, an Explanatory Note and a proposed Explanatory Document. No specific questions were posed, with respondents invited to comment on any aspect of the draft Order or proposed Explanatory Document.

Submissions and respondents

1.13 A total of 36 written submissions were received, all of which took the form of general narrative. Respondents have been categorised according to the general type of their organisation, or as individuals. It is recognised that there are overlaps between the organisational categories, and that some subjective judgement was required. It was considered important, however, to provide an indication of the respondent types for the analysis, and the specific perspective of VCs made it important to provide a specific category for them. The table below provides an indication of the general pattern of responses. A full list of respondents is given at Annex 1.

Table 1. Respondents by category

Category No. %[5]
Visiting Committees 14 39
Local authorities 8 22
Criminal justice organisations 6 17
Inspection, monitoring or complaints organisations 3 8
Human rights organisations 2 6
Individuals 2 6
Professional or representative organisations 1 3

1.14 The most common respondent category was "Visiting Committees", from which 39% of all responses were received. Respondents in this category included individual VCs in Scotland and the Association of Visiting Committees (AVC).

1.15 Just over a fifth (22%) of responses were in the "local authorities" category, and these included responses from local authorities as a whole, as well as from specific local authority services and partnerships. Just under a fifth (17%) of responses were from "criminal justice organisations". These respondents included organisations with a clear focus on criminal justice issues, as well as some with a specific focus on prisons.

1.16 Other categories included three responses from "inspection, monitoring or complaints organisations" (IMCOs)[6], which included national organisations (in Scotland and England and Wales) whose primary function relates to inspection, monitoring or dealing with complaints. All of these were respondents with a role in relation to prisons or prisoners. There were two responses from "human rights organisations" (HROs)[7] and both were Scottish organisations with a focus on human rights issues. There were also two responses from individuals, both of whom identified that they had personal experience of prison monitoring. Finally, there was one response from a "professional or representative organisation", within the legal profession.

Analysis of the data and presentation of the information

1.17 The analysis of the material was qualitative, reflecting the nature of the information (i.e. it was entirely in the form of narrative, as no specific questions were asked).

1.18 The analysis involved a number of stages, as follows:

  • Assigning an identifier code and number to each response.
  • Reading all of the responses, to identify the specific aspects of the draft Order on which comments were being made in each response (i.e. the overall "areas").
  • Creation of a series of analysis documents, with one for each comment "area", comprising a two column table with the respondent identifier and their verbatim comments.
  • Detailed analysis of the material to a series of themes and sub-themes, generated from the data.
  • Summary of the findings and preparation of a report.

1.19 The presentation of the material reflects the qualitative nature of the analysis, and focuses on highlighting the themes, sub-themes and the range and depth of views expressed within each. A broad indication of the overall pattern of views (in terms of general views of the proposals) by type of respondent is given as far as this could be ascertained. The only quantitative information, however, relates to the overall number and types of respondents (provided in Table 1 above).

1.20 The report uses qualitative terms for the presentation of the information, such as, for example: "a small number / a few"; "several"; "many"; and "most" to describe the views expressed on particular themes and sub-themes. It would be inappropriate to attempt to quantify respondents' detailed views further for a number of reasons. These include that:

  • The responses were all provided as narrative (and comprised varying levels of detail).
  • Respondents were not asked for their views of specific questions, nor to express agreement or disagreement with specific issues or aspects of the draft Order. This makes it inappropriate to provide a "number" expressing such views, as there is no basis for grouping them to "count" responses, and without a "closed" question, there is a need for subjective interpretation.
  • Some points overlapped more than one comment area or theme.
  • Subjective judgement was required in some cases to allocate points to particular issues.
  • Some responses represented the views of a number of individuals or organisations.
  • The focus of the consultation was on the identification of a range of views to inform the way forward, rather than a "weighing" of responses.
  • The consultation was not a plebiscite or a referendum.

1.21 The respondents to the consultation were self-selecting on the basis of an invitation rather than responses being solicited. This also means that the findings cannot be generalised to the wider population.

1.22 Overall, therefore, although common themes can be highlighted, any attempt to quantify views to specific numbers or proportions would not be robust.

1.23 It should also be recognised, given the number of respondents overall, the range of issues and the nature of the material, that some of the specific points were made by very small numbers (or sometimes single) respondents. Given the purpose of the consultation, however, it is important to reflect these in the analysis, whatever the number of respondents expressing them.

1.24 The report does not identify the type of respondent(s) at every issue, as the number of separate points would compromise the readability of the report. Some examples are given, however, of the patterns of respondents raising overall themes.

1.25 Where the term "respondent" is used, this refers to one response, even where that response may represent the views of more than one contributor.

1.26 In presenting the qualitative data, the wording used to make a point sometimes follows the wording of the response closely or is repeated largely verbatim. This helps to ensure that respondents' intended messages are reflected (even though it is not presented as a "quote"). Quotations have not, however, been used to illustrate key points, as this might imply that a particular view was being given more weight than another.

1.27 It should be noted that some respondents, in making suggestions, referred specifically to the Order itself, while others referred to amended legislation. For the purposes of this report, these are discussed interchangeably, as the practical effect of the suggestions would be the same (i.e. the Order would amend other pieces of legislation).

1.28 This report cannot provide a compendium of the material submitted, nor can it present every individual point made (particularly given the level of detail in some of the responses). It summarises, however, the overall themes, sub-themes and issues raised.

1.29 The full texts of responses can be viewed on the Scottish Government website.

1.30 The remainder of the report presents the findings, as follows:

  • Section 2 covers the findings about the proposed structure overall.
  • Section 3 covers the findings on the proposed nature and proposed roles of Monitors.
  • Section 4 covers the findings about other aspects of the draft Order and related issues.


Email: Sacha Rawlence, Andrew Corrigan

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