Justice and Home Affairs: FM letter to Cabinet Secretary

First Minister Humza Yousaf sets out agreed priorities on how the 2023-2024 commitments in the Policy Prospectus will be delivered.

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Dear Angela,

Thank you for your commitment to the people of Scotland by taking up your role as Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs. I look forward to continuing to work together to deliver real, tangible improvements in the lives of the people of Scotland.

We, as a country, have faced incredible challenges over recent years. We are still recovering from the impact of the COVID pandemic. War continues in Europe, and the impact of Brexit and the cost of living crisis have combined to create some of the most challenging economic conditions in living memory. Alongside this we face the twin crises of climate change and nature loss, which are global threats of existential proportions.

As a Government, we must be unapologetic about supporting those who need help the most. We will collectively deliver on the promises we have made in our Policy Prospectus and use the priorities it sets out to drive our decision-making, our accountability to parliament and our engagement with partners and the people of Scotland. This will mean that we will need to make tough decisions to ensure that every pound we spend and invest is targeted in such a way that it reaches those that need it most and delivers maximum value.

Our aims as a Government

To ensure we maintain a laser focus on delivery for the people of Scotland we have set out three critical and interdependent missions in our policy prospectus Equality, opportunity, community: New Leadership – a fresh start for the period between now and March 2026. These will be underpinned by our refreshed National Performance Framework and our shared policy priorities set out in the Bute House Agreement. These three outcomes are: 

  • Tackling poverty and protecting people from harm. Continuing to tackle poverty in all its forms to improve the life chances of people across Scotland.
  • A fair, green and growing economy Delivering a wellbeing economy through harnessing the skills and ingenuity of our people and seizing the economic and social opportunities from meeting our net zero targets.
  • Prioritising our public services. Creating, investing in, and maintaining sustainable public services, to ensure the people of Scotland can access modern, effective, and timely services when they need to.  

These missions will define our work as a government. You and I have agreed an ambitious range of outcomes continue modernising the Scottish justice system to better focus on the needs of victims while ensuring rates of offending continue to be at historic lows, over the next three years. We also have a collective responsibility across Cabinet to deliver all of the objectives we have set out in our policy prospectus to succeed in our missions.

Throughout all this, you should ensure you are contributing to Scotland's National Outcomes. Our National Outcomes describe our shared priorities, including the need to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and allow all in Scotland to live free from discrimination.

Having agreed this range of longer-term outcomes, I now ask you to consider what this looks like in terms of outcomes and delivery actions over the next year.

Objectives for your portfolio for 2023/24

As Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs, the work of your portfolio is key to achieving a just, fair resilient Scotland and supporting the wider work of this government.

In your role as Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs, I also recognise the responsibility we share for maintaining credible core public services. We must also safeguard the independence of our key justice agencies and the Judiciary, and ultimately maintain confidence in the rule of law.

For this financial year we have agreed that you will deliver on the following to ensure the outcomes of the policy prospectus are achieved by 2026:

  • In order to meet our collective mission of prioritising public services, and continue our recovery from the COVID19 Pandemic you will work with justice agencies to ensure that court backlogs caused by the pandemic continue to decrease through targeted use of the expanded court capacity programme and that overall waiting times decrease. This includes a particular focus on more serious cases within the solemn courts while ensuring that for summary cases the backlog is cleared during 2024.
  • We know that maintaining the respect and trust of the public, as well as acting in a way that respects human rights, is integral to Police Scotland’s principle of policing by consent.  You will continue to work with the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland (PS) to deliver a sustainable budget position. In light of Sir Iain Livingstone’s public acknowledgement that Police Scotland is institutionally racist and discriminatory, it will be a priority to consider the outcome of two reviews into policing culture and values and work to demonstrate an absolute commitment to championing equality and an anti-racist approach to policing in Scotland. You will also support the Police (Conduct, Ethics, and Scrutiny) (Scotland) Bill during its parliamentary passage, to improve transparency and further strengthen public confidence in policing.  
  • You will take forward collaborative work between PS and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) to further drive out inefficiencies and achieve operational efficiencies. You will also support SFRS to reduce harm in our communities and support further modernisation of the service. You will continue to implement the Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Act 2022 to ensure that fireworks and pyrotechnics do not cause harm, distress or serious injury.
  • In order to support everyone to feel safe in their communities, we will continue to reinvest funds recovered through the Proceeds of Crime Act to support projects delivering positive futures for young people and implement the new Violence Prevention Framework. You will also work to implement the Hate Crime Delivery Plan, including implementation of provisions in the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021.
  • In order to tackle and eradicate violence against women and girls (VAWG), you will refresh the Equally Safe strategy, including considering the impact of our legislative approach to tackling domestic abuse and work to develop Scotland’s first national multi-agency Domestic Homicide Review model. You will also consider the recommendations made by the Independent Review of Funding and Procuring VAWG services.  You will also further develop legislative proposals on new laws to criminalise misogynistic conduct.
  • This government is committed to improving the experience of victims, who too often tell us that the justice system can be daunting, retraumatising and hinder their recovery. To make progress this year you will support implementing the trauma-informed knowledge and skills framework for all staff in justice organisations; launch the pathfinder phase of Bairns’ Hoose which is a key action in our Keeping the Promise Implementation Plan and Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan; ensure we are providing information across the criminal justice system in a compassionate way by using the FirstWord style guide to improve communication with victims; update the implementation plan to enable more vulnerable victims and witnesses the choice to pre-record their evidence and avoid retraumatising court environments and; take appropriate action on the report from the Women in Justice Panel to further develop how a person-centred approach to justice, reflects women’s experiences and needs.
  • You will confirm our commitment to reforming our laws to ensure women and girls have greater confidence in the justice system by progressing the Victims, Witness and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill during its parliamentary passage.
  • You will continue to take steps to reduce reoffending by publishing and implementing with partners, a delivery plan to support the delivery of the National Community Justice Strategy aiming to deliver effective rehabilitation, while keeping the public safe.
  • In order to limit the negative effects of short-term imprisonment, including remand, particularly for women and families, you will support the implementation of the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill to support efforts to help people in prison maintain family contact. You will also take action to further embed trauma-informed approaches in custody settings, including in recognition that there is a disproportionate representation of people with previous experience of the care system in our prisons. We must keep the Promise and support their effective rehabilitation.
  • You will continue to invest in our prison estate continuing work on the development of replacement prisons in Inverness and Glasgow to ensure modern facilities that promote rehabilitation. 
  • You will support the Children (Care and Justice) (Scotland) Bill through its parliamentary passage, ensuring that under 18s will no longer be detained in Young Offenders Institutions, taking us a step closer to keeping the Promise.
  • To better ensure access to justice, including in our civil courts, you will develop a draft model for the delivery of mediation services across sheriffdoms. You will also support the Regulation of Legal Services (Scotland) Bill as it progresses through parliament, to provide a modernised regulatory framework for sustainable legal services and an independent legal profession.
  • To further modernise the justice system you will support the pilot and plan for the roll out of the Digital Evidence Sharing Capability programme allowing digital evidence to be shared swiftly and efficiently. 

These actions will support the achievement of the policy prospectus outcomes. This is not the only work that will be taken forward under your portfolio this year. I expect impact and improvement to be key considerations as you deliver these actions and I expect you to bring forward suggestions for where we may take different or additional action to achieve the outcomes. I would also like you to consider further opportunities for public service reform within your portfolio and the efficiency of the institutions and public bodies you have responsibility for to deliver better outcomes for Scotland.

A number of commitments that support the achievement of these outcomes have been identified as part of the priorities set out in our policy prospectus. These will not be the only areas of work to contribute, but are some of the key levers we have to deliver the outcomes set out above. I expect impact and improvement to be key considerations as you deliver these priorities and I expect you to bring forward suggestions for where we may achieve better outcomes if you think there are additional or alternative options. I would also like you to consider the opportunity for public service reform within your portfolio and the efficiency of the institutions and public bodies you have responsibility for to deliver better outcomes for Scotland, whilst continuing to address the unavoidable backlogs built up during the COVID pandemic.

Responsibility for financial sustainability

As we take action together to carefully manage the Scottish Budget to deliver these priorities, you must work within your portfolio to drive efficiency and reform, and identify measures that can be taken to create additional flexibility within the wider Budget and deliver a balanced outturn against agreed envelopes.

We must prioritise, to ensure that we use our finite resources in the most effective way. That prioritisation work is significant, but it will also be demanding, and will require us to make hard decisions. I know you will be guided by our commitment to support those who need the most help and prioritise resources to the policies and programmes which make the biggest difference to our three core missions.  

Collaborative working with partners

It is important to recognise this work cannot be achieved in isolation. It requires collaboration with key partners, including the full range of Justice agencies, Local Government, business (including small businesses), communities and third sector partners, among others, as well as those who rely on our justice system, including victims and witnesses.  I believe, as I know you do, that the participation of, and collaboration with, these key partners is essential. I ask you to continue to ensure you listen to their ideas, their views, and their lived experience, take into account potential impacts – as well as benefits - on them and put them at the centre of our work. You will also work closely with our colleagues and partners in the Scottish Green Party, to ensure a continued, positive and productive relationship via the Bute House Agreement. 

Our Policy Prospectus set out our commitment to resetting important relationships. As well as resetting the relationship with business, our commitment to resetting the relationship with local authorities and working collaboratively with Local Government is central to the delivery of many of the things we have committed to achieve. I ask you to work with your colleagues to support the Deputy First Minister in building on the constructive progress already made in developing our relationship with Local Government. I would also particularly encourage you to work closely with the business community to ensure that policies and how they are delivered takes account of potential impacts on businesses and considers opportunities for businesses, especially small businesses, to benefit from our policies and spend.

Collaborative working across Cabinet

It will also be key to continue to work closely with your fellow Cabinet secretaries. It is your responsibility to engage, timeously and appropriately, with your Cabinet colleagues and their junior Ministers as we seek to deliver on these objectives. In addition to those objectives laid out above, you are also expected and required to work on cross-cutting government objectives, which will contribute to our priority outcomes. These include, but are not limited to, the transition to Net Zero; work to meet our child poverty targets; Keeping The Promise; and the incorporation of human rights treaties into Scots law, as far as possible within devolved competence. I know you will also continue to work closely with the Minister for Independence to provide the people of Scotland the information they need to make an informed choice about whether Scotland should become an independent country. 

In considering what issues to bring to Cabinet, I want you to prioritise those issues which most clearly support the delivery of our three core missions and therefore most significantly engage the collective responsibility of this Government.  This will ensure that Cabinet is focused on long term delivery, on the most critical issues of policy and on what matters most to the people of Scotland[1]

Cabinet Sub-Committees and Ministerial Working Groups also play a key role in ensuring leadership and accountability of cross cutting issues to support delivery of our three core missions.  They are critical for providing a space for oversight on delivery of our commitments thereby helping us to maintain our outcomes focus.  I expect all members of the Cabinet Sub-Committees to play a proactive role in them, recognising that there will be a number of challenging decisions to be taken by the Cabinet Sub-Committees in the coming months.

Planning and accountability for delivery

I ask that you ensure that thorough, evidence-based and financially assessed delivery plans are in place for these commitments, to support the ongoing and effective monitoring of progress and impact. This plan should contain baseline performance measures for each commitment and highlight which commitments you are prioritising for early implementation, alongside related timelines, dependencies and assumptions. It will be my expectation that this articulates your agreed programme for the year ahead, with outcomes which represent best value for money for the resources you have at your disposal and that they demonstrate your balanced portfolio budget. This will in turn allow the Deputy First Minister and I to ensure all portfolios deliver within our overall budget the prioritised set of outcomes we are seeking.

I have asked the Deputy First Minister to consider these plans from all portfolios and to join me in six monthly discussions with you on progress against out agreed objectives. The Deputy First Minister will be in touch separately with you around reporting arrangements as part of her role in co-ordinating cross government delivery.

I look forward to working with you to deliver on our shared ambitions for Scotland.

Yours sincerely,

First Minister

Justice and Home Affairs  policy portfolio outcomes to be achieved by 2026 as set out in Equality, opportunity, community: New leadership – a fresh start

  • Reduce waiting times for justice by continuing to provide justice organisations with the resource to clear court back logs built up during COVID.
  • Support Police Scotland to have the capacity and capability to respond to changing demands, so confidence in the Police continues to remain high.
  • Work with justice partners to ensure that people are less likely to be a victim of crime, especially those from deprived communities or with protected characteristics, and that the level of crime continues to be at historically low levels.
  • Ensure that victims and survivors voices are heard, that they are treated with compassion and have increased confidence in the justice system.
  • Reform our justice system, including through legislation, which is subject to the agreement of parliament, to strengthen how the justice system recognises and responds to all forms of violence against women and girls and ensure the process of justice better meets the needs of the people of Scotland.
  • Modernise the processes of justice through greater use of digital technologies.
  • Keep a continuing focus on both public protection and rehabilitation and keep rates of re-offending low. 
  • Continue work to address Scotland’s high use of imprisonment, including reducing the proportion of the prison population, especially women, on remand from the post COVID high.
  • Ensure that 16 and 17 year olds are no longer sent to Young Offender Institutions – subject to passage of the Children (Care and Justice) Bill.
  • Reduce the gap between men’s and women’s feelings of safety, and work to ensure everyone feels safe in their communities.
  • Continue to support and strengthen access to justice, especially for disadvantaged groups and communities.

[1] Further guidance on collective responsibility and Cabinet business can be found in Section 2 of the Scottish Ministerial Code


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