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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 13 November 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Texas Instruments


Topical Question Time

Young Offenders (Protections)

To ask the Scottish Government what protections it has put in place for young offenders in custody. (S5T-01326)

The Scottish Prison Service recognises the importance of providing a safe and secure environment for young people in custody. That is delivered through various policies and practices, including appropriate assessment on entry into custody and programmes for managing those at risk.

In addition, the Government has worked hard to keep children out of the criminal justice system. The whole-system approach for young people who offend has been rolled out across Scotland since 2011 and aims to tackle the causes of offending and support young people to change behaviour. Through early intervention and diversion from prosecution, the approach’s intention is to avoid young people entering the criminal justice system unless absolutely necessary.

The youth justice strategy promotes advancing the whole-system approach and improving life chances, including supporting under-18s while in custody and planning their transition back into the community.

Over the past decade, the shift towards prevention has seen positive changes in youth justice, including a reduction in the number of under-18s held in custody.

I am aware, through recent cases, of concerns that have been raised about mental health provision in Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution Polmont. Any death of a young person is a tragedy for the individual and their family. As with any death in custody, there will be a mandatory fatal accident inquiry. However, I am determined that appropriate early actions are taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of young people in custody.

I thank the cabinet secretary for that answer and share the thoughts that he expressed for the family of William Lindsay, whose case is truly a tragedy. Our hearts also go out to Katie Allan’s family and to other families who have experienced similar tragedies.

Aside from the protections that have been outlined, what range of support is available to young people who end up in Scotland’s criminal justice system? In light of the tragic cases that have been reported in the media in recent weeks, will the cabinet secretary look closely at whether existing provision is sufficient?

Let me once again express on record our sympathies and condolences to the families of both William Lindsay, also known as William Brown, and Katie Allan. I met Katie’s parents, Linda and Stuart, along with their legal representative, Aamer Anwar, just before this topical question time. There is no doubt that they have questions to which they want the answers immediately. They understand that there is an FAI process and they have questions about that process. However, they also have questions to which they would like a more immediate answer. I reassure the families of Katie Allan and William Lindsay that, if there are lessons—I have no doubt that there are—that we can learn from in the here and now, in the immediate and short term, we will do what we can to act on those.

On the question of the existing support for young people, the member will be aware of the talk to me strategy. However, even with all the support that exists for young people, we want to prevent them from getting into the criminal justice system in the first place. I referred to the whole-system approach and I saw a good example of effective early intervention on a recent visit to West Lothian. Whether we are dealing with children within or outwith the care system, that is what we want to be doing. However, I know that in relation to the case of William Lindsay in particular, there is a particular focus on young people in the care system. We must take a cross-Government approach to that issue and I have spoken to many members of the Government, including the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, and the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd. The Government is determined to take a cross-Government approach to the support that young people have when they are in the criminal justice system as well as, importantly, to the preventative measures that will stop them getting into the criminal justice system in the first place.

I welcome the cross-Government approach to the issue. It is my understanding that a lack of secure places for young people in custody may have been a factor in the case that we are discussing this afternoon. Does the cabinet secretary recognise that there may be capacity issues in the system and will he commit to working with the relevant institutions to make sure that secure care is made available wherever possible?

Yes. Again, I have had conversations with my Government colleagues about that. It is important that facts are fully established in these cases and we are endeavouring to ensure that we have all the facts in the cases of both William Lindsay and Katie Allan.

It is important, however, that secure accommodation units are available. There are difficulties and pressures on the system—we know that there have been capacity demands on secure units for a number of years. We will look to see what we can do to address some of that. Space is needed to ensure that we establish the full facts of cases, but we will certainly take a cross-Government approach to the issue that Angus MacDonald raises.

Can the cabinet secretary assure the chamber that any review will examine the anti-ligature measures that are in place at Polmont prison? When does he anticipate that the fatal accident inquiry will report?

Liam Kerr will be aware that the fatal accident inquiry is a responsibility of the Lord Advocate. I do not think that Katie Allan’s family would mind me saying that they raised directly with me issues to do with the FAI process, such as the length of time that it will take, which Liam Kerr asked about. I think that those are legitimate questions to ask. I have had a conversation with the Lord Advocate, and I will continue to have conversations with the Lord Advocate, who rightly has responsibility for FAIs.

With regard to the first part of Mr Kerr’s question, I am reflecting carefully on how we take a cross-Government and cross-systems approach, with various criminal justice and preventative partners, to a variety of issues to do with how we deal with young people in the criminal justice system.

Today, Katie Allan’s family raised with me the issue of ligature points in the prison estate. I gave them a commitment that whatever action we choose to bring forward—I will update Parliament on that—making our prison estate as safe and secure as possible will be part of the conversation.

I associate myself with the cabinet secretary’s remarks—the deaths of William Brown and Katie Allan were undoubtedly a tragedy. I understand that William Brown was in Polmont on remand. To follow on from the points about capacity, when people are in Polmont on remand, is that kept under review, so that they have the possibility of going to secure accommodation?

Some of the details in Katie Allan’s case are troubling—for example, she was offered a banana when she asked for a bandana. Surely we do not need to wait for a fatal accident inquiry to address such details about the level of care; action can be taken now on the sensitivities and practice in relation to vulnerable people who are in Polmont.

I agree with both points that Daniel Johnson made. Work will be done to look at those who are on remand in Polmont. The decision to remand a young person—or anybody else—in custody, as opposed to the presumption of bail being granted, is of course for a sheriff or another legal authority. It is important for such decisions to remain independent of the Government, but I heard what Daniel Johnson said about learning lessons. I will reflect on and take back with my officials the question about those who are on remand in Polmont.

I also agree with Daniel Johnson’s second point. I gave Linda and Stuart Allan the assurance that we will not wait for an FAI to report; we will look to learn any immediate and short-term lessons. It is inevitable that an FAI will go into specific details—Daniel Johnson referred to some of them—and it is important for the process to be free from any Government or other interference and allowed to take its course. However, when there are short-term lessons to be learned, we will look at how we can give them best effect across the Government.

I, too, associate myself with the sympathy that was expressed for the families concerned. Today, I counted that 76 deaths in prison have yet to be the subject of FAIs—that stretches back to six deaths in 2014. In his analysis, Kenneth Roy—who, sadly, passed away last week—labelled such a situation a

“catalogue of delay and obfuscation”.

Does the justice secretary agree—I think from his comments that he does—that no family, including those of William Lindsay and Katie Allan, should ever have to go through such an interminable wait to find out what happened? Does he agree that such delays are preventing lessons from being learned, which makes it harder to save lives?

I will reflect on what has been said. Katie Allan’s family, whom I met today, have no desire—I imagine that no other family would—to wait years down the line for lessons to be learned; they want immediate action. They gave me a set of requests for things that could be done in the immediate and short term that they would like me to consider, and I will fully consider that.

I will reflect back to the Lord Advocate the conversation about FAIs, as other members can. It is important to note that he has the responsibility for FAIs. It is right for the Government and politics to be kept separate from that. Notwithstanding that, I have heard loudly and clearly from members and others that there are questions to be asked about the FAI process. I will reflect that in conversations with the Lord Advocate.