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Chamber and committees

Criminal Justice Committee

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Agenda: Decision on Taking Business in Private, Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, Priorities in the Justice Sector and an Action Plan, Subordinate Legislation


Subordinate Legislation

Discontinuance of Cornton Vale Prison (Scotland) Order 2023 (SSI 2023/132)

The Convener

Agenda item 5 is consideration of a negative instrument, the Discontinuance of Cornton Vale Prison (Scotland) Order 2023 (SSI 2023/132). I refer members to paper 3.

Before we discuss the instrument, I thank Teresa Medhurst and her team at the Scottish Prison Service for a really interesting and informative visit to the new national women’s prison at HMP YOI Stirling earlier this week. It was good to visit the prison before it opens and learn a bit more about how it will differ from the previous facility at Cornton Vale, particularly around the more trauma-informed and person-centred environment that the women will be in when the prison opens.

The purpose of the instrument before us today is to formally discontinue the prison of Cornton Vale on 6 June 2023, which is the day that the order comes into force. The discontinuance order is the formal legal act that is required to reflect the fact that a prison has ceased to operate. Do members have any recommendations that they wish to make in relation to the instrument, which will otherwise come into force?

Russell Findlay

I would quickly like to put on record my appreciation for yesterday’s trip to the prison and to thank the official who answered so many questions. It was fascinating. Seeing the new building alongside the old one showed the contrast quite well. It is also worth putting on record our appreciation for the staff. There is a board up in the new prison that shows that some members of staff have more than 40 years of service, with others having 20 or 30.

It is also worth noting that, over the years, many women took their own lives at Cornton Vale.

Jamie Greene

I apologise for being unable to make the visit. I wonder whether the SPS would be willing to host members of the committee who were unable to make that visit. It would be very interesting to get a proper tour of the prison, perhaps once it is operational. I know that that would make it slightly more difficult, but there is certainly a willingness among members to go back or to attend for the first time.

Obviously, the SSI is a legal instrument, which means that the site can be used only for a prison building. Has the Government indicated what its plans are for the old building or the wider site? That question might have been answered yesterday—it probably was, as I imagine that someone will have asked it.

I think that it was, but I have forgotten what the answer was. I will bring in Stephen Imrie, who will remember.

If it is no longer being used as a prison, what will happen? Will it just be demolished and remain Government property?

Stephen Imrie

As we saw yesterday, the buildings on, I would say, about three quarters of the site have all been knocked down and replaced by the new HMP YOI Stirling. There are a couple of buildings that remain of the old Cornton Vale, but it was indicated yesterday that those, too, will be removed over the next year and replaced by new parts of HMP YOI Stirling. Essentially, on what used to be the site, and on the same footprint, all the previous buildings relating to Cornton Vale are to be demolished and replaced by new buildings for HMP YOI Stirling.

I am sure that that will become clear when I get to visit. Thank you for that.

We can certainly follow up on your request for a visit. I think that it would be very worth while for members.

Pauline McNeill

As other members have said, it was an excellent visit. John Docherty, who has hosted us twice now, answered thousands of questions, so I found it really informative.

For completeness—I mentioned this earlier—we were clearly told that there were 100 places, and I wanted to note for the record that the note that we have says that it is

“a new national prison for 80 women”,

so there is a disparity of 20 somewhere along the line.

We will pick that up.

Fulton MacGregor

Like others, I will take the opportunity to put something on the record. This is quite a historic moment, which will possibly—I certainly hope that it will—mark a real change in the culture of how we deal with women’s custody and justice in Scotland.

For anyone who has had any involvement in the criminal justice system, either as a user of services or through working in that sector, Cornton Vale is synonymous with Scottish justice and is therefore almost a household name. As Russell Findlay alluded to, over the years, it has not always had the best reputation, but that is nothing to do with the staff who work there. I want to put on record my thanks to the staff.

What we are seeing now is a real change in how we approach women in the criminal justice system, which can only be welcomed. Given the institution’s status in Scottish society, I thought that it was important that I put on record my acknowledgement of that change and my thanks to all the staff who have worked there over the years in what must have been some very difficult circumstances.

The Convener

Thank you, Fulton. I, too, give my grateful thanks to the Scottish Prison Service and its staff for their commitment over the years at Cornton Vale. We certainly look forward to hearing about progress as the new facility opens.

That concludes our business in public this morning. We now move into private session.

11:26 Meeting continued in private until 12:27.