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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Thursday, March 7, 2024


Emma Caldwell Case

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is an urgent statement by Angela Constance on the Emma Caldwell case. Before the statement begins, I wish to ensure that all members are aware that, because legal proceedings in the case remain live, the sub judice rule is engaged. I therefore request that members focus on the issues that are discussed in the statement itself and that they avoid any speculation about, or discussion of, the detail of the individual case.

The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


The Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs (Angela Constance)

Before I make the statement, it is important that I make it clear that while legal proceedings in the Emma Caldwell case remain live, I must be careful not to refer to any details of the criminal case itself. In addition, I know that members will understand that, at this time, there are restrictions on what I can say and on the level of detail that I can offer, both in the statement and in responses to questions.

I know of no greater loss than that which comes with the loss of one’s child. It seems to be unimaginable that the loss, grief, and pain—a pain that Margaret Caldwell has described as “enduring” and “excruciating”—could be further compounded by almost two decades of not knowing what had happened to your child or why they were taken from you.

The courage and conviction of the Caldwell family and Emma’s mum, Margaret, will have left a lasting impression on everyone who has had the privilege of engaging with the family. Mrs Caldwell has lived through what no one should ever live through. Therefore, let me repeat the words of the First Minister when he and I met the family earlier this week. He said:

“We are so deeply sorry for your and your family’s loss and for the pain and grief you have all had to endure. And for the two decades of fighting a fight that you, and William (before he passed away) and your family should never have had to go through.”

When we met on Tuesday, Mrs Caldwell reminded us that at the heart of all this is Emma—a gentle and kind daughter who was deeply loved and who was incredibly close to her mum, her dad and her siblings.

Nineteen years have elapsed between Emma’s murder and a conviction. There can be no doubt about the serious failings that brought a grieving family to having to fight for their right—for Emma’s right—to justice.

I know that Mrs Caldwell has met the chief constable, and it is right that Police Scotland has publicly and personally apologised for letting Emma and her family down in the original investigation by Strathclyde Police. The chief constable said:

“A significant number of women and girls who showed remarkable courage to speak up at that time also did not get the justice and support they needed and deserved from Strathclyde Police.”

That said, I commend those who were involved in the recent reinvestigation of the case, and I know that Mrs Caldwell and the family have also thanked those who were involved in securing last week’s conviction.

I am clear and confident that Police Scotland is, like society, changing, and that it is different from the legacy forces of the past, but that is not enough to comfort the Caldwell family, nor does it do justice to Emma’s memory.

The First Minister made it clear last week that we would give serious consideration to the Caldwell family’s call for a public inquiry into Emma’s case, and that we would take a decision only after we had heard directly from Margaret Caldwell and her family. Following the meeting with the Caldwell family, I can today announce that there will be an independent judge-led statutory public inquiry, and that preparations for the inquiry will begin immediately.

I have not taken that decision lightly; I recognise that a statutory public inquiry is a very significant undertaking. It will take time to set up the inquiry and for it to hear evidence and reach its findings. Nonetheless, given the gravity of the case, the length of time that it took for justice to be served, the horrific extent of the sexual violence that has been suffered by the victims and survivors, and the suffering that has been endured by their families, the case for holding a public inquiry is clear and compelling. It is time to apply fresh scrutiny to the case so that we can understand what went wrong, ensure that lessons are learned for the future and provide answers to all the victims and survivors.

I have asked my officials to begin immediate preparatory work to set up the inquiry. As part of that work, they will explore the options for who would lead such an inquiry. After discussing that with the family, we are in agreement that what is most important is that the person who leads the inquiry has the confidence of the family, understands their trauma and has the necessary expertise to lead an inquiry of this nature and importance. That will lead to us considering the judiciary within and outwith Scotland. To be clear, I have faith and confidence in the independence and integrity of the Scottish judiciary; however, there is precedent for looking beyond Scotland for a chair, and it is important that we explore all options at this stage.

Because an intimation of intention to appeal has been lodged in the case, I cannot go into further detail today. However, I commit to updating Parliament when all legal proceedings in the case are at an end and when we have appointed an inquiry chair. We will work alongside the chair and the family in setting and agreeing the terms of reference.

I welcome Police Scotland’s statement that

“time is no barrier to justice”,

and I support the call for anyone who has been a victim of sexual violence to come forward and speak to the police, no matter when the offences took place.

We must go further and faster in order to eradicate the scourge of violence against women, and we must tackle the root causes. That means focusing on challenging misogyny and the toxic masculinity that underpins that behaviour. It means that we must challenge and address gender inequality and that, when those unacceptable behaviours turn into violence and abuse, we must ensure that men—the perpetrator is almost always a man—are held to account for their actions and are brought to justice. Our equally safe strategy sets out those priority areas and it details the approach that we are taking to prevent and tackle violence against women and girls, through focusing on early intervention and prevention, and on support services.

As part of my role in progressing the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill, I have heard from many victims and survivors that, for them, the justice system is distressing and disempowering. Women and girls have told the Government and the Criminal Justice Committee that their experiences of the justice system have been worse than the crime itself. That is completely unacceptable and must be addressed. That is why I urge members to look at the proposals in our bill and the reforms that we want to drive forward so that we have a justice system that works for sexual offence complainants. A consistent and robust response throughout the justice system, from initial complaint to the end of any trial, is critical in our efforts to prevent violence against women and girls. We must all do better to support the courageous women who speak up, and to show all the women and girls in our country who feel that they do not have a voice—including those who are on the margins of society through trauma or addiction, who need us—that they, too, will be heard.

Let me finish where I began, Presiding Officer. I say this to the Caldwell family: that no matter what I say today or announce in this chamber, it will not be enough to respond to your loss and tragedy, but I, this Government and—I very much believe—this Parliament want to do everything that we can. For you, Margaret, for William, for your family and for women and girls across this country, but most of all for Emma, I am pleased to tell Parliament today that there will be a public inquiry. I will continue to give all that I have in order to eradicate violence against women and girls across this country, so that no one else has to endure what you have endured.

However, I want Margaret to have the final words, which she shared with me earlier. She said:

“My daughter Emma and the many victims who so courageously spoke up deserve nothing less than a robust independent public inquiry and a judge who will act without fear or favour. There are those who say that such inquiries take too long, but my family has struggled for 19 years to get justice. We will wait however long it takes to see the truth and will accept nothing less.”

The Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business. I would be grateful if members who wish to put a question would press their request-to-speak buttons.

Russell Findlay (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement. I begin by paying tribute to Margaret Caldwell and her family, who are in the public gallery today. None of us can truly imagine the depth of her suffering over the past two decades—a daughter lost to cancer, her other daughter murdered, and her husband, William, also taken by cancer. Margaret’s agony has been compounded by what appears to be corruption at the heart of Scotland’s criminal justice system. She was deceived and lied to by those in positions of power and trust in the police and the Crown Office.

I have just met Margaret and her family, and their strength and dignity are truly humbling. Her campaign for Emma has been backed by good police officers, lawyers and journalists. However, let me be clear that her daughter’s killer is now behind bars only because of her love and her strength. I believe that, if it had been left to Police Scotland and the Crown Office, Iain Packer would almost certainly still be out there raping women with impunity.

Today’s announcement of an inquiry is welcome, but a key question remains unanswered. Margaret believes that only a judge with no connections to Scotland’s criminal justice establishment should be appointed. To be credible and trusted, the inquiry must be truly independent, so I hope that the cabinet secretary can agree today to Margaret’s call for an external judicial appointment.

Angela Constance

Today of all days, I have no intention of uttering the name of anyone who has been convicted of such heinous crimes. The only names that I will utter are those of Margaret and Emma and, of course, the Caldwell family. Mr Findlay is quite correct to pay tribute to Emma’s courageous and tenacious family, who have endured what no family should ever endure. They are a credit to Emma and her memory, and also to the safety and wellbeing of women and girls across the country.

Right now, the priority for me is to set up the inquiry. I give Parliament an undertaking to keep members informed. As I said in my statement, as regards next steps, I will continue to engage with the family and also with others, such as the Lord President and the Lord Advocate, with whom I am required to engage. I am open to the inquiry having a chair from outwith Scotland. As I also said in my statement, there is precedent for that. Members might recall that Sir Anthony Campbell led the independent public inquiry on fingerprint evidence.

Today, we must all put our shoulder to the wheel to ensure that the inquiry is set up on the strongest and most stable footing, so that we can all say to the Caldwell family that, although we recognise that their pain will never fade, we can open a new chapter in their journey for justice.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

It is the job of this Parliament to ensure that no family should ever have to wait two decades for justice. The long and commendable fight that the Caldwell family, whom I, too, had the humbling pleasure of meeting today, have endured to get justice for their daughter, Emma, has also served to question the fate of other women, such as the four vulnerable women who were murdered in Glasgow in the 1990s. They have highlighted the injustice of serious violence against women that is so prevalent in our society.

Scottish Labour stands four square behind the Government and Angela Constance on her decision to hold a public inquiry to establish, among other matters, why there was no prosecution in 2008, when it appeared that the Crown and the police had enough evidence for that to happen. A public inquiry must get to the truth of that, which should include probing all the criminal justice agencies, which have questions to answer. What happened between 2008, when it is believed that there was sufficient evidence, and 2024, when there were finally a conviction and a sentence?

The cabinet secretary has said that she will consider appointing an inquiry chair from outside Scotland. Scottish Labour would support that, given the unique nature of the inquiry that is required here, so that the family can have full confidence in the inquiry’s conclusions. If I might press the cabinet secretary a little, notwithstanding what she said about judicial matters relating to the appeal, I am sure that she would agree that the inquiry should be conducted in a timely manner following that appeal.

Angela Constance

I appreciate Ms McNeill’s support on this matter. The purpose of the public inquiry is to provide fresh scrutiny of the full course of events over the past 19 years. It will, of course, scrutinise all aspects of our justice system. I assure Ms McNeill and other members that whoever leads the independent inquiry at the end of the day cannot have had any previous involvement in this case. I know that that is perhaps stating the obvious, but it is important to put it on record.

Ms McNeill also touched on the importance of the many victims in this case, in that inquiries continue on other unsolved murders. I put it on record that, according to statistics published last October, for the period since the establishment of Police Scotland in 2013-14 until 2022-23 all 591 reported homicides, which account for 602 victims, have been solved. However, of course, there are historical cases—I do not like the phrase “cold cases”—where families are still waiting for justice and for the day when they are able to breathe again.

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I associate myself with the cabinet secretary’s comments, and I express my deepest sorrow to the family of Emma Caldwell for their loss.

We know that inquiries can take time, and we would not want anyone involved in this case to have to wait any longer than necessary for the answers that they are looking for. Has the cabinet secretary had the opportunity to discuss the long timescales that are often involved in any inquiry with the Caldwell family, so that they know the process that will follow?

Angela Constance

One of the many reasons why I wished to engage directly with the Caldwell family, along with the First Minister, was to share our knowledge and experience of previous and on-going inquiries. It is important that people have full sight of the complexity of the work that is required to establish an inquiry and of the length of time that it takes. Pauline McNeill also raised that point, which I omitted to address earlier. I am acutely conscious that the family has already waited a long time, and I of course want to make decisive progress, but we need to invest the time now, up front, to ensure that the inquiry has a strong and stable footing and has the full confidence of the Parliament and of the Caldwell family. There are some aspects that will most certainly take time.

Once again, I will end with the words of Margaret, who said:

“There are those who say that such inquiries take too long. My family have struggled for 19 years to get justice and we will wait however long it takes to see the truth, and will accept nothing less.”

It was very important that I had the conversation directly with the Caldwell family. I have a duty of care to them, and I wanted to ensure that they were apprised of what establishing a public inquiry involves.

Sharon Dowey (South Scotland) (Con)

Margaret Caldwell came into the Parliament today and spoke with my colleagues. One thing that she was clear about was that she wanted the Scottish Government to confirm that it will discuss and agree the exact terms of the inquiry with her and her family. She also hoped that her family would be given full representation within the proceedings of the inquiry. Will the cabinet secretary give that undertaking today to Margaret and her family?

Angela Constance

I would reassure the member, the Caldwell family and the Parliament that I will have full and on-going engagement with the family and with other victims, as required. Some of the aspects that Ms Dowey has narrated will be for the chair, but I am committed to investing the time right now. Yes, we want some pace in this process, but we will do it right. We will get the right person and we will get the right terms of reference. Given the magnitude of the case, I want us all to be marching forward together.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

We know that many survivors of sexual offences do not want to report them straight away, so I, too, welcome Police Scotland’s settlement that

“time is no barrier to justice”.

What more could be done to encourage victims of sexual violence and domestic violence to come forward, no matter when the offences took place?

Angela Constance

In recent years there has been an increase in the reporting of historical sexual offences cases. That has been driven in part by the #MeToo movement and, I hope, by increased confidence in the police and in our justice system. I would encourage anyone who has been a victim of crime to report it.

We know, however, that sexual offences remain significantly underreported, and we must continue our work to reform the justice system to ensure that it commands the support of victims and survivors. That is one of the reasons why we have set out proposals in the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that, when victims report crimes, they are treated with compassion and respect by an effective, objective and transparent system from the moment of the complaint to the end of any subsequent trial.

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

The chief constable has said that the police have reflected and learned from the initial investigation and subsequent reinvestigation but, as the cabinet secretary has said, there are still huge concerns about how women are treated by the justice system. The family have been waiting for 19 years. I heard what the cabinet secretary said regarding their role in setting the terms of reference. What discussions will the cabinet secretary have with the family about the remit of the inquiry and whether the investigation would be dealt with in the same way if it happened now?

Angela Constance

For clarity and for the record, so that members are aware of this, it will not be possible to formally appoint a chair or settle the terms of reference until all legal proceedings are disposed of. It is important to say that.

On the broader point about policing in Scotland, policing, like society, has changed and, crucially, continues to change. The police have rightly apologised, but that does not remove the need for a public inquiry. I welcome the fact that the chief constable is supportive of a public inquiry and committed to co-operating fully with it, as we would expect.

Of course, the inquiry is a statutory public inquiry, with all the legal powers that surround that. I point members to “HMICS Thematic Inspection of Organisational Culture in Police Scotland”, which was published in December. It narrates the journey of change and how Police Scotland is heading in the right direction. His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland’s earlier thematic review of domestic abuse, which was published at the start of last year, spoke about the proactive steps that Police Scotland is taking to change societal attitudes to gender-based violence, including domestic abuse.

There is no part of our justice system that is beyond scrutiny, challenge or change. That applies to all of us in the Government and in the chamber, as well as to the justice system in its entirety and all its component parts.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

My thoughts are also with Margaret Caldwell and the Caldwell family.

What more can be done to encourage women to have confidence that they will be listened to? What difference does the cabinet secretary think that the passing of the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill, which is currently making its way through the Parliament, might make to that objective?

Angela Constance

Obviously, I am conscious that the Victims, Witnesses, and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill is currently under stage 1 scrutiny, and I am aware that the Criminal Justice Committee, which Mr MacGregor sits on, has taken extensive evidence on it—and rightly so. Many members in the chamber will be familiar with our propositions in relation to a sexual offences court, trauma-informed practice and independent legal representation. The bill has other measures in it, of course. I contend—as I always do—that no part of our system is beyond scrutiny. I am conscious that we are about to engage more fully in that stage 1 process and in the legislative process as a whole.

The basic point to reiterate is that it is imperative that victims and witnesses trust the way in which our justice system responds, particularly to rape and sexual assault, so that we can continue to encourage people to report crimes, we can hold perpetrators to account, and we can support complainers to give their best evidence while reducing the risk of retraumatisation. It is imperative that we focus on the end-to-end justice journey. We all have a part to play in making life better in pursuit of the delivery of justice.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I echo the cabinet secretary’s sentiments and those that were expressed by others in paying tribute to Margaret Caldwell and the rest of Emma’s family for their tireless and courageous campaign for justice. I welcome the confirmation of the inquiry, the cabinet secretary’s confirmation that she will look at the inquiry being led by a judge from outwith Scotland, and her commitment to keeping the Parliament updated.

The cabinet secretary outlined fairly the issues of the length of time that such public inquiries can take. Will she give a commitment to members to discuss with Margaret Caldwell and her family the possibility of an interim report being provided as part of the inquiry process?

Angela Constance

As always, I appreciate the tone and tenor of Liam McArthur’s questioning.

Matters in and around the approach that is taken, including whether that approach is modular—with interim reports or with chapters—are, ultimately, for the chair. However, we can all learn from recent practice. We have to ensure that a public inquiry is equipped to do a thorough job, given the investment that we all will have in it. However, where possible, we want things to be done in a timely fashion.

Mr McArthur is also correct to point out that a considerable programme of work will be required in agreeing and engaging with the family and others on the terms of reference and the identification of a chair. We have to establish a formal set-up date. There will be issues in and around the premises, the secretariat, legal teams, the infrastructure and how evidence is managed and gathered, as well as hearings and how deliberations are managed.

Then, of course, there is the reporting. We are starting an immense amount of work today. We are committed to doing that properly but, where possible, timeously.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

It is clear that a significant number of women were failed not just by a culture of misogyny in Strathclyde Police but by a misogynistic system that criminalised them rather than the men who exploited them and caused harm. What steps is the Scottish Government taking to ensure that that injustice in our criminal justice system is addressed, so that the burden of criminality never again falls on the victims of male violence?

Angela Constance

As I hope that I have said, no matter someone’s background or their past or present, it is imperative that everyone who has been a victim trusts the way in which our justice system responds to rape and sexual assault, so that we can continue to encourage anyone who has been a victim to report a crime, irrespective of their background or the trauma that they have endured.

The Government has always been clear that prostitution is a form of violence against women and girls and is utterly unacceptable. We need a victim-centred, trauma-informed justice approach. That requires collaboration with various justice partners, including Police Scotland, to ensure that women who are involved in and impacted by prostitution are recognised as victims and are offered support and advice so that they feel safe in outlining their circumstances and concerns in the knowledge that the services are equipped to provide non-judgmental, informed support.

Fairly recently, we published a strategy about taking our work forward. Lessons will be learned from that work and from the pilot that will take the strategy forward. That will inform all future options, including future legislative considerations, which will include whether to criminalise the purchase of sex.

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

I, too, pay tribute to Margaret Caldwell and her family. A wait of 19 years for justice is not just. Having women and vulnerable people ignored—not listened to or treated with compassion or dignity when they make complaints or report crimes—is just not good enough. Further to her previous answers about support for complainers, what assurances can the cabinet secretary give to victims, survivors and witnesses who feel that they have been let down by the justice system when they have made complaints?

Angela Constance

This morning, I attended a workshop in my capacity as co-chair of the victims task force, which I chair with the Lord Advocate. Essentially, the purpose of that work is to map out in detail the end-to-end justice journey and the improvements that are required at every point that is described as a pain point in our system by victims and survivors. I assure the member that, crucially, we continue to invest record levels of funding into a range of front-line services. Just this week, the Minister for Victims and Community Safety announced an additional £2 million of funding for Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid so that those organisations can reduce their waiting lists for women who need support services, including refuge places and counselling.

Tess White (North East Scotland) (Con)

Magdalene Robertson was Packer’s first known victim. She was raped as a teenager, yet she was ignored and misled by the criminal justice system. Then there are Packer’s dozens of other victims. None was believed and some are no longer alive to see that justice is done. Will the cabinet secretary give an undertaking that every victim’s voice will be heard?

Angela Constance

The purpose of a public inquiry, as I have already outlined, is to examine the scope and magnitude of events that took place over nearly two decades and to acknowledge that far too many victims have waited too long for justice.

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

My thoughts go to Margaret Caldwell and Emma’s family. What role do people—mainly men—have to play in calling out the actions and behaviours of other men who perpetrate misogyny and sexism, which can then lead to violence against women and girls?

Angela Constance

The short answer is that we all have a role to play in the eradication of violence against women and girls, but it has to be acknowledged that that cannot be achieved without men recognising the vital role that they must play daily in tackling the deep-rooted sexism and misogyny that are inherent in the perpetration of such offences. Those who perpetrate violence and abuse, the majority of whom are men, must change their actions and behaviour. It is vital that the violence, abuse and misogyny that women face are seen as a societal issue, not as a women-only issue. It is only through fundamental change across our society that women can be protected.

That concludes the ministerial statement. There will be a brief pause before we move on to the next item of business.