4. Impact of COVID 19 on policy actions
4.1 In spite of these considerable achievements, many justice policies have either been necessarily delayed by COVID 19 or have had to adapt quickly to respond to the impact of the pandemic. Some examples of these of these impacts, and the responses are illustrated below.
Prisons and Community Justice
4.2 There has been a significant impact on prisons in Scotland, however huge effort has been, and continues to be, made in ensuring that Scottish prisons continue to operate well in the context of COVID 19. Robust hygiene and safety measures remain in place to reduce the spread of the virus and to keep people in custody fully informed.
4.3 Modernisation of a fit for purpose prison estate remains under way although this was impacted by delays due to lockdown restriction on construction (approximately 5 months). Construction on the transformative and world-leading female custodial estate, including the new female national prison and two Community Custody Units in Dundee and Glasgow, all estimated to be operational in 2022. Work on replacements for HMP Inverness and HMP Barlinnie is also progressing. Early procurement activity and contractor engagement is underway for HMP Highland at the chosen site at Inverness Retail and Business Park, with the operational date estimated for Spring 2024. The ownership of the HMP Glasgow site within the Provanmill area of the city was formally transferred to SPS in December 2020. Construction works are estimated to commence in Summer 2023 with an estimated completion date of Summer 2026. Meanwhile, improvement works within HMP Barlinnie are also underway with much needed upgrades to the prisoner reception area and healthcare facilities. The first phase of the work is scheduled to be delivered by May 2021.
4.4 COVID 19 has made it necessary to accelerate some implementation work - for example structures were put in place to support early release from prison and as noted under priority 5 above, electronically monitored implementation was accelerated to assist in reducing remand population
4.5 COVID 19 has impacted on the work noted under priority 4 around health and prisons. For example, there have been some delays in elements of progressing the recommendations of the ERoMH although SPS were able to progress the majority of their related actions regarding development of mental health and wellbeing strategy etc. The Health and Social Care in Prisons Programme was paused in March 2020 as part of the Covid-19 pandemic response and we will consider how to recommence the programme when pressures relating to the pandemic have eased. Programme resources have been refocused on supporting the health and justice response to the pandemic in prison and police custody settings including the introduction of Buvidal, an alternative Opioid Substance Treatment (OST) in prisons to ensure continuity of treatment for those who need it; the rapid scale up of NHS Near Me to all 15 establishments across the prison estate; working with stakeholders to ensure that people in prison who are at the highest risk from COVID-19 receive advice and support to shield, providing advice and support to the SPS COVID Clinical and Public Health Advisory Group; and working with a range of policy teams across the Scottish Government and partners to support the deployment of national programmes and policies in prison settings including vaccination deployment and testing.
4.6 To help alleviate the pressure on justice social work services, the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 extended all unpaid work orders (UPW) and other activity requirements by 12 months, and required any new orders imposed by the courts to last for at least that long. This enabled JSW services to suspend all unpaid work programmes during lockdown without this resulting in any orders being inadvertently breached as a result. Extending all UPW and other activity requirements was successful in ensuring that JSW could continue to function effectively in the short to medium term. However, capacity within JSW to deliver UPW has remained substantively reduced, due primarily to physical distancing measures and other measures to keep individuals on orders and staff safe as well as varying local restrictions, with the tier system affecting some areas more than others. To mitigate significant risks arising in relation to JSW's ability to deliver outstanding UPW hours – highlighted by Social Work Scotland and others – and ensure that the community justice system can continue to operate effectively, the Scottish Parliament passed the Community Orders (Coronavirus) (Scotland) Regulations 2021. These regulations reduced the UPW hours imposed in existing CPOs by 35%, with exclusions for domestic abuse, sexual and stalking offences, thus reducing the overall volume of outstanding hours to be delivered.
4.7 The response to COVID 19 has also demonstrated the strength in relationships across the community justice sector and the willingness to share information and work collaboratively together in a constructive manner to establish good outcomes for people.
Civil and Family Law
4.8 The timetable for transferring independent tribunals into the Scottish Tribunals has had to be revisited and the devolution of the reserved tribunals, has also progressed slower than originally envisaged.
4.9 Resource has been reprioritised from developing instructions for a Legal Aid Reform Bill to focus instead on methods to provide support to the legal aid sector as we moved through the pandemic, and the Payment Panel members have been asked to give consideration to the impact of the pandemic on its findings and recommendations.
4.10 COVID 19 has had - and continues to have - a profound impact on the criminal courts resulting in court closures which has had an negative impact on court users including victims of crime. These impacts are covered in more detail in Section 5.
4.11 Following a pause as a result of COVID 19, work on the delivery of DESC resumed and this will reduce the need for the physical transfer of evidence, supporting remote models of working, as well as swifter, more effective processes all of which are crucial to support efforts to reduce the backlog of court cases. The procurement for a digital partner and technical solution is at an advanced stage and implementation is planned to commence later in 2021. DESC is an enabler for reform across the justice sector, particularly for the delivery of the Recover, Renew, Transform programme of work.
4.12 In terms of jury research and reform, The COVID 19 pandemic unavoidably paused activity, as priorities shifted towards the recovery of the criminal justice system but this piece of work has now concluded and the summary of discussions was published in early December 2020. Discussions continue in the context of any plans for the RRT Programme and the upcoming recommendations of Lady Dorrian's review on the management of sexual offence cases.
4.13 Although a vast amount of engagement on Human Trafficking and Exploitation had taken place prior to the pandemic, planned victim engagement events were unable to proceed in line with public health advice. As a result, we worked with support organisations to reflect the survivor voice and the third annual progress report and Strategy review was published in May 2020 in line with our statutory obligations. Due to the significant response to COVID 19 and its impact on public services across Scotland, the duty to notify will not come into force before 1 April 2021 at the earliest (and is likely to be further delayed).
4.14 The Strategic Policing Priorities were published before the pandemic. While Covid 19 has seen Police Scotland adapt their operational approach, these principles remain at the heart of their activity.
4.15 COVID 19 has had an impact on our ability to take forward work on the Public Inquiry, while resources have been refocused on essential COVID 19 priorities. Progress in certain areas, such as recruitment for the Public Inquiry Team, work to identify suitable premises for the Inquiry and the procurement of services and goods to ensure that the premises are fit for purpose, have been affected by the Coronavirus health pandemic. The Scottish Government continue to engage on these matters with Lord Bracadale and the Public Inquiry Team.
4.16 Sponsorship and support to SPA/Police Scotland in relation to Police Workforce has continued as before COVID 19 although the issues relating to workforce then had a COVID 19 aspect, for example keyworkers childcare, COVID 19 safe workplaces, response to outbreaks, vaccines and testing, PPE etc
4.17 The practical implementation of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner Act 2020 has been delayed, pending the appointment of the new Commissioner by the Parliament. This recruitment process should have completed in late Autumn.
4.18 We are continuing to work with key strategic and delivery partners within the three emergency services in Scotland to ensure effective delivery of the Emergency Services Mobile Communications Programme (ESMCP).
4.19 Our response to the Miners' Strike review was later than originally planned, and as noted above, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice announce in October 2020 that the single recommendation for pardons to be granted, was accepted. We are planning to launch a consultation on the qualifying criteria for the pardons in March 2021, but this too will be impacted by COVID 19 as it will not be possible to hold face-to- face engagement events.
4.20 Dame Elish's review work continued relatively unaffected. She was able to continue to gather evidence and consult with a variety of stakeholders, albeit on a more remote and digital basis than originally planned. Her Final Report was published in November 2020, not significantly delayed by COVID 19 .Partners have engaged well with the Final Report, despite COVID 19 causing additional pressures, and work is now underway jointly to take forward a programme of implementation. A Governance and Reporting framework has been agreed by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and partners, and a structure is being established to enable progress, monitoring and triannual public reporting.
4.21 Restitution Orders have proceeded with marginal delays to timing, and came into force on 10 February.
Fire and Rescue
4.22 Transformation work was paused during the height of COVID but is now recommencing. The SFRS Service Delivery Model Programme has the overall aim to undertake short, medium and long-term scenario planning, to inform an analysis of risk across Scotland's communities. These reviews are now taking place and will identify where the SFRS, working within the confines of the resources available and in partnership, can deliver a balanced prevention, protection and response model that will contribute to eliminating, reducing or mitigating known or predicted community risk.
4.23 Work to trial and evaluate the updated Scottish Government fire safety guidance was delayed due to COVID. This work is now proceeding and our prioritisation of Fire Safety (and associated work) continues.
4.24 The impacts of the pandemic on Cashback for Communities have been wide ranging and include the need to furlough staff, delay recruitment and suspend face to face delivery. The closure of schools and restrictions on social interaction have had a significant impact on the ability of organisations to engage with young people. Officials are working with delivery partners to combat the impacts of the pandemic through flexible and adapted project delivery including an increase in digital engagement to enable activities to take place in safe and socially distanced environments and health and wellbeing focussed sessions. In some cases, the original target outcomes over the three year programme will not be achievable. Grant payments are being treated as a priority to ensure that funding to our third sector and community organisation delivery partners is not delayed. Additionally, the pandemic and the associated backlog in court cases may have an impact on asset recovery figures in short term.
4.25 Building Safer Communities (BSC) partners have reprioritised their work and put in place resources to support community safety work and priorities in response to COVID 19. The BSC online Unintentional Harm and Injury Hub continues to be active online and features good practice exemplars. However, COVID 19 has impacted on the ongoing development and implementation of the Hub. This is mainly due to staff redeployment and partners reprioritising their work.
4.26 Due to restrictions within schools and communities, many of our violence reduction programmes such as Mentors in Violence Prevention Scotland, No Knives Better Lives paused for a short time whilst adapting to a digital presence. They have all adapted and now deliver parts of their work online however the preferred delivery method is face to face.
4.27 The Scottish Violence Reduction Unit due to the impact of COVID 19, amended some of its activity to focus on supporting communities through and as we exit the pandemic. COVID 19 has restricted some of the outreach in communities they had planned on undertaking.
4.28 Due to hospital access restrictions, Navigators programme temporarily offered a telephone referral service to ensure continuity of service. This was impacted by COVID 19 as A&E admissions had fallen due to local and national lockdowns.
4.29 Lockdown and restrictions have hampered face to face work on tackling sectarianism projects but they have adjusted to deliver online and in different ways, the learning from this year will change some delivery methods moving forward.
4.30 In terms of Missing Persons, lockdown restrictions have stopped face to face contact but the National Coordinator has been able to work with local areas remotely and deliver the first good practice national conference online and develop online training resource for return discussions for practitioners.
4.31 The wider team was moved to COVID work with one official in the Brussels office taking over the workstream to ensure that work continued in the background. A full time staff member from the Autumn was in place to help prepare for EU Exit.
4.32 During the pandemic counter-terrorism work has progressed at a slower pace due to competing demands. As resources and activities are re-prioritised by partners, development and delivery of PROTECT and PREPARE has been impacted especially in training, testing and exercising. COVID 19 imposed control mechanisms have also impacted on this area.
4.33 However work remains underway to brief Local Authorities and other partners in Scotland on their responsibilities in CONTEST more widely that PREVENT and in delivering the protective security aspects.
4.34 Work with Health colleagues to understand the impact of mental health on the vulnerability of individuals to becoming involved in terrorism has not been able to be progressed as COVID 19 related Health priorities have come to the fore.
4.35 As COVID 19 has impacted on resources, the delivery of the certain aspects Cyber Resilience Strategy has been reduced. Also cyber criminals look for new areas of risk and COVID 19 has proved to be a fertile ground for cyber crime – false websites, phishing, IP and research theft. We have had to rapidly respond to this by brigading our partners to raise awareness of COVID 19 cyber crime through substantial communications across sectors to raise awareness and to ensure that core services around COVID 19 understand these risks. We have managed to continue with the development of a new strategic framework for a cyber-resilient Scotland which is going to be published at the end of February.
4.36 The release of the full Scottish Risk Assessment 2020 has been delayed until Feb 2021. However 13 of the 15 risk assessments that form the SRA 2020 in August 2020, have been completed and shared with resilience partners to assist their planning and preparation.