Criminal justice priorities: statement from the Justice Secretary - 1 September 2021

A statement from Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans Keith Brown following his appearance at the Criminal Justice Committee on 1 September 2021.

As public health restrictions are further eased and as Scotland continues to open up, the criminal justice system is responding to the significant challenges that are a result of Covid and the necessary public health measures taken by the Scottish Government.

I would like to thank our justice partners for the important role they have played during the pandemic and by those I mean prison officers, criminal justice social workers, police officers, fire and rescue staff, prosecutors, the court service and judiciary, our legal profession, the third sector and others.

I have been very impressed by the hard work and willingness of everyone to come together to mitigate as best we can the consequences of the pandemic, finding sometimes creative solutions to the problems that the system has faced.

Innovations such as the use of remote jury centres in cinemas, which I have been to visit myself, the remote balloting of jurors, the use of online hearings in some court hearings – these are good examples of collaborative and innovative approaches taken by justice partners. The Scottish Government has committed to investing £50 million this year to help drive forward the Recover, Renew and Transform programme.

For 2021-22, we have also increased the policing budget by £75.5m to over £1.3bn, including £15m one-off funding specifically to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on police finances. This is in line with our commitment to protect the police resource budget in real terms throughout the lifetime of this new Parliament, just as we did for the last.

We are beginning to see some optimistic signs as the necessary Covid restrictions are eased. For example, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service announced that the number of sheriff solemn cases concluded in June exceeded pre-Covid levels.

Having said that I recognise that the task ahead of us remains significant and I do not underestimate the distress caused to the victims of crime by unavoidable delays in cases being resolved.  It will require continued co-operation across the justice system as a whole for some time to come to resolve fully the impact of the pandemic. However, that task is not only about returning to the way things were. It is also thinking about how we can do things better, which means often doing things differently.

The Scottish Government has already begun work to deliver transformational changes across the whole 5 years of this parliament. More detail on this will be laid out in the Programme for Government when it is published next week.

Many of our commitments, for example on strengthening the rights and protection of victims, improving public protection and the modernisation of the justice system, will require both primary and secondary legislation. We are also committed to the ongoing process of law reform including Bills proposed by the Scottish Law Commission. As always in justice we can anticipate a range of legislation to be considered by this and other committees throughout the parliament and in addition to this there may be Bills that come forward from Members.

A number of commitments which we have set out for the reform of our justice system are shared broadly by other parties. Just one example is a legal right to anonymity for complainers in sexual offence cases. There is, I believe, quite a lot that we can agree on. There is strong evidence of collaborative working across our justice system and I welcome the opportunity for collaborative engagement with the committee and with other parties in parliament.

I have met already with a number of opposition spokespersons – some of whom are here today – and if we work together we can bring about changes necessary to transform Scotland’s criminal justice system.

I have said before, and I will repeat it here - I will try to find a consensus wherever possible. While I am sure there are areas of the Government’s programme that members of the committee will want to probe and scrutinise, I would ask you to work constructively with myself and the Minister for Community Safety where you can over the coming weeks, months and years.

Back to top