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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 25, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 25 October 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Electricians (Regulation), Education (Primary 1 National Standardised Assessments), Home Detention Curfew, Scotland’s Place in Europe: Our Way Forward, Scotland’s Contribution to International Development, Decision Time


Contents


Home Detention Curfew

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a statement by Humza Yousaf on home detention curfew and the independent reviews by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.

15:01  

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice (Humza Yousaf)

I begin by expressing my sincere condolences to Craig McClelland’s family. I met them again this morning to discuss the reports and how the Government will respond. It is clear from our conversations that Craig was a much-loved son, brother, partner and, most of all, dad to his three boys. Craig was a remarkable young man. Through speaking to his family, I have heard much more about him. I heard stories of Craig’s selflessness and of how he would intervene if someone was in danger, without considering himself. What touched me most was hearing how Craig’s life completely revolved around his family and friends, particularly Stacy and his three boys. I commend Craig’s family for their bravery and tenacity in highlighting their concerns about the circumstances of Craig’s death.

I am absolutely determined that lessons will be learned and that improvements will be made to home detention curfew to ensure that public safety remains paramount. In June, my predecessor instructed Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland to undertake independent reviews of home detention curfew. Those reports have been laid in Parliament today. I met the two chief inspectors yesterday, and I thank them and their teams for undertaking the reviews. I also met the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service and the chief constable this week to seek assurances that the inspectorates’ findings will be addressed as a priority. I will discuss the inspectorates’ findings and the action that is being taken in response in a moment. Before I do so, I will provide some overall context on HDC.

Home detention curfew is an established mechanism for preparing prisoners for release. It is not available to all prisoners and is not an entitlement. Prisoners are eligible only following risk assessment and provided that they are not subject to statutory exclusions. At any time, there are around 300 people on HDC, which is approximately 4 per cent of the prison population; that is comparable to its use in England and Wales. Since it was introduced in 2006, more than 20,000 people have been released under HDC. The vast majority—80 per cent—successfully complete their period of HDC. Of those who are recalled, the vast majority are returned promptly to custody. However, I am clear that HDC needs to be strengthened in the light of the inspectorates’ findings.

The inspectorates’ reviews examined the processes for assessing whether someone should be placed on HDC and for investigating breaches and apprehending individuals following recall. They also examined whether processes were followed in the case of James Wright, who was convicted of Craig’s murder. In that specific case, the inspectorates found that the application process and decisions to release were in line with existing policies and guidance. However, there were some oversights and they were clear that the assessment process should be improved.

The inspectorates found that, once the recall order for James Wright was issued, police delivered the necessary briefings and updated their systems appropriately. However, they noted that there was a lack of a documented approach and effective oversight in the efforts to apprehend James Wright. It is clear, therefore, that improvements are absolutely needed, and I intend to take immediate action.

I make it clear at the outset that the SPS, Police Scotland and indeed the Scottish Government will accept all of the inspectorates’ recommendations. The chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service and the chief constable have given me assurances that, in addition to actions that have already been taken, work to implement the recommendations is being taken forward as a top priority.

It is not possible in the allotted time to discuss all the recommendations in detail today. I will, however, highlight the main findings that are common to both reports and set out the immediate actions that are being taken to address them. Both reviews were clear that the risk assessment process should be strengthened to make decision-making procedures more robust. Specifically, the inspectorates recommend that there should be greater consideration of the potential risk that an individual may pose to the community, improved access to police intelligence to inform decisions, improved support and guidance for staff who undertake assessments and, crucially, a presumption of refusal of home detention curfew where the individual’s offence involves certain prior behaviours.

In response, the following additional safeguards are being implemented. There will be a presumption that individuals whose offence involves violence or knife crime will not in normal circumstances receive home detention curfew and we will consider the option of placing this on a statutory basis. We will also look at exclusions for individuals who have known links to serious and organised crime. Police intelligence is now being shared to inform decisions about HDC release, and the SPS is adding an additional level of assurance to the HDC assessment process. Governors in charge will now receive recommendations and decide on HDC release, applying consistent criteria. Alongside that, the SPS and partners will review the assessment criteria for HDC and make any necessary wider improvements.

The inspectorates also identified that improvements were needed to ensure greater consistency in HDC processes and to strengthen governance. In response, the SPS and Police Scotland are improving the consistency of documentation relating to HDC as a priority. Police Scotland has also taken action to strengthen the governance of activity to apprehend individuals who are unlawfully at large. Those individuals are now discussed at each local area commander’s daily tactical briefings, ensuring that clear tasking and supervision arrangements are in place.

Both inspectorates highlighted shortcomings in the information-sharing processes between the SPS and Police Scotland in relation to HDC, particularly on the status of those who are unlawfully at large. Police Scotland and the SPS have already undertaken urgent work to rectify that. In June, they established a working group to review and improve their information sharing and communication processes in relation to HDC. As a result, they now have clear communication processes in place so that information on individuals who have been released on HDC and those who are subject to recall notices is shared and acted on in real time. That means that efforts can be focused on identifying and apprehending individuals who are unlawfully at large. Consequently, the number of individuals who are unlawfully at large from HDC has decreased from 54 on 18 June to eight as of this morning.

The inspectorates found that cross-border arrangements where individuals are released to addresses in England and Wales should be clearer, particularly in relation to notification of release and revocation of HDC licences. SPS and Police Scotland have already taken action. They have established single points of contact in all 43 police forces in England and Wales and developed clear processes to alert those forces and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to release on HDC to a curfew address in their area and any revocation of those licences. As a further safeguard, Police Scotland is also informed, and confirms, that the relevant information is logged on the police national computer.

As part of its review, HMICS examined the powers available to Police Scotland to apprehend individuals who remain unlawfully at large. Consequently, it has recommended that the Scottish Government considers making remaining unlawfully at large a specific offence. That would also provide associated powers of entry for the police. I accept that recommendation and will consult criminal justice partners, and of course members across the chamber, on the best way forward.

If they agree with that proposal it will be taken forward by way of an amendment to the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill at stage 2, which is scheduled for spring 2019.?I believe that those additional safeguards will strengthen HDC processes in the immediate term by delivering more robust and consistent assessment; improved governance and oversight of release decisions and decisions on apprehension; streamlined communication between the SPS and Police Scotland; and clearer cross-border arrangements.

Those immediate actions form part of a wider programme of work to implement all the inspectorates’ recommendations. I have made it clear to the chief executive of the SPS and the chief constable that I expect to see them make real and demonstrable progress and that the Scottish Government will of course do likewise.

Police Scotland and the Scottish Prison Service have established a senior strategic oversight group to drive forward that work. The group includes representation from other criminal justice partners and the Scottish Government and it will report on its progress directly to the chief constable and the chief executive of the SPS.

I have asked the chair of the Scottish Police Authority to maintain oversight of Police Scotland’s activity to implement the recommendations for the police. I have also asked HMIPS and HMICS to review progress against their recommendations in six months’ time.

I believe that the immediate actions that I have set out today, along with the work that the SPS and Police Scotland are undertaking, will make HDC processes more robust and will help to strike a balance between support for reintegration and the requirement to protect public safety.

I reiterate my thanks to Craig McClelland’s family for their determination in raising their concerns about the operation of HDC. It is through their tenacity and tireless campaigning on Craig’s behalf that we have got to this point. I thank them sincerely for their efforts because their campaigning means that we will have a stronger, more robust HDC regime.

Ensuring that the voices of victims and their families are heard throughout the justice system is a top priority for me and this Government. I will continue to keep Craig’s family and this Parliament updated on progress.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues raised. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, and then we will move on. We are already over time, so I ask members to bear in mind the need for brevity.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of his statement. I, too, praise the family of Craig McClelland for their bravery and determination in pursuing this matter. Ultimately, there has been a catastrophic failure of the justice system to protect the public. The McClelland family and the public will rightly be asking why on earth tragedy had to strike in order for the Scottish National Party Government to investigate and ultimately make these changes. For example, I am sure that the cabinet secretary will agree that it beggars belief that the Scottish Prison Service and the police were not already sharing information on offenders who were unlawfully at large.

The cabinet secretary boasted that 80 per cent of those on HDCs complete them, but that is a failure rate of one in five. Is the cabinet secretary really happy with that failure rate?

The cabinet secretary has pledged to strengthen victims’ rights, but there was not a single recommendation in the statement on that. He knows well the Michelle’s law campaign’s demands, but there was no commitment to any of those in the statement. Why not? I ask him to make such commitments.

Concerns were raised in June that the police do not have the necessary powers to force entry to property in cases of breach of HDC or where criminals are unlawfully at large. Why was there nothing in the statement to address those concerns? What will the cabinet secretary do to address them?

Humza Yousaf

To answer Liam Kerr’s question directly, I am of course not happy with the 80 per cent figure, but I think that the context is hugely important. There is some reflection to be done about the other 20 per cent, and the suggestion of setting a target for reducing that figure is a sensible one that I will reflect on.

As I have said, I am not happy, but if we delve deep into the 20 per cent figure, we see that, in the vast majority of cases, people did not complete their HDCs either because they were recalled or because of a technical breach through their not being in the right place at the right time. The majority of the 20 per cent do not go on to commit grave and serious crimes while they are unlawfully at large. Of course, it is completely understandable that that will be no comfort at all to the McClelland family. Mr Kerr’s point is well made; however, I say very clearly once again that I am not happy with the situation, but the context is important.

With regard to Michelle’s law, I have often found—and this might well be inadvertent—that Liam Kerr seems to conflate and confuse two separate issues. Michelle’s law is largely about parole and what happens thereafter in relation to release on licence; given that the issue that we are focusing on today is home detention curfew, why would I make a statement on parole? However, although I am not convinced by Mr Kerr’s point, I am happy to take the discussion offline.

That said, I will give Mr Kerr some comfort about the Michelle’s law campaign. I have met the Stewart family and indeed the member to discuss the issue; I have sympathy for their three major asks and, in the review of parole that the First Minister agreed to as part of the programme for government, we will explore every single one of them. I do not think that some of them need legislation, but some might well do, and I can make a commitment in that respect.

I addressed the power of entry issue in my statement. I am sorry if I was not clear enough, but I will reiterate the point that I made. One of the inspectorates’ recommendations was to make going unlawfully at large an offence, and implementing that through, say, a stage 2 amendment to the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill will give police the powers of entry that they require. The family raised that issue with me this morning, and I am happy to commit to doing that.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I, too, thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of the statement and offer my sincere condolences to Craig McClelland’s family. I know that the reports will answer some of their questions about Craig’s murder, but I hope that the Government will commit to doing whatever it takes to go beyond them in order to answer the family’s remaining questions.

Let us be clear: not only should this murder not have happened, it should not have been possible for it to happen. The reports detail multiple failings, and they make clear recommendations for the Prison Service and the police. I welcome—and we back—the Government’s commitment to give additional powers to the police in order to deal with those who have breached home detention curfews; indeed, we called for that this summer.

However, the timeline of events leading to Craig McClelland’s murder shows that, although the SPS revoked the home detention curfew on 24 February, it took until 4 May for the police to carry out an address check. That is truly shocking. Does the cabinet secretary accept that the police must treat the revocation of HDCs with the priority that it deserves and have the resources to match?

More important, the cabinet secretary’s remarks highlighted issues of interagency working and process, but I am concerned that the multiple failings detailed in the reports point to much larger and more widespread competence and capacity issues in the agencies, not just how they work together. Does the cabinet secretary agree?

Finally, given all the failings detailed in the reports—and, indeed, given the fact that 24 people have remained at large for more than four years—why has it taken a tragic murder to happen for the Government to investigate the issues that have been revealed?

Humza Yousaf

I thank Daniel Johnson for his questions, and I will try to get through as many of them as possible.

In relation to the McClelland family’s request for more questions to be answered, I had a lengthy meeting with them this morning. Understandably, most of their questions were about Craig’s tragic murder. I said that they should reflect on the reports that were due to be published at 12.30 and that if they wanted a further follow-up meeting with me, they would be most welcome to have it. They will also meet and have access to the police and the SPS, if they so wish; indeed, I understand that they will meet the police next Monday and that something is being arranged with the SPS, too. My door is very much open to the McClelland family and I will do what I can to get answers to their specific questions.

In what he says about the incident itself, Daniel Johnson is absolutely right in some respects. The McClelland family told me that, at the time of Craig’s murder, people would come up to them to say, “It’s a shame that Craig was in the wrong place at the wrong time.” That is nonsense—James Wright was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Craig had every right to go from his house to his mother’s house and expect to get there safely.

Daniel Johnson is right that there were some failings in the case. Some of them, on documentation, governance and communication, have been identified in the inspectorates’ reports. That is why we will accept all those recommendations, as will SPS and Police Scotland.

On the question of the competence of the organisations, the reason why I have instructed that there should be a review of the recommendations after six months is that I want to be assured and filled with absolute confidence that they are being acted on. I have seen that through the short-life working group, and I look forward to seeing the review in six months’ time.

I agree with Daniel Johnson’s assessment of the priority that must be given to this, which was clearly highlighted by the inspectorates in both their reports. Somebody going unlawfully at large must be given greater priority. I am confident that the recommendations, if accepted, will help to move that priority further up the agenda.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The opening questions and answers have taken much longer than they should have taken. That will penalise back benchers. I certainly will not get all the questions in, but I will take as many as possible, if people are brief.

George Adam (Paisley) (SNP)

Craig McClelland was a young man who met the love of his life and had three lovely boys. Dedicated to his young family and his partner Stacey and loved by all his family, he is more than the tragic story that we have before us today. Today, Craig’s family and I met the cabinet secretary to discuss both reports, and I thank the cabinet secretary for confirming that the dialogue will continue.

These are tragic circumstances and none of us can bring Craig back, but what we can say, and what the family want to know, is how we can protect others from going through the same grief. Will the cabinet secretary tell me how we can take the recommendations forward and ensure that no other families have to endure this heartbreak? Will he explain how we will translate the recommendations into legislation and what form that might take?

Humza Yousaf

I thank George Adam for accompanying the family on the many occasions on which they have had to have meetings with various public agencies and, indeed, with me. I know that he has been a great supporter of the family in getting the answers that they deserve.

In answer to his question, I say that I highlighted in my statement that there is the potential to lodge a stage 2 amendment to the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill. We will explore with members and other stakeholders whether that is the most appropriate and quickest way to create that offence and make that change in legislation.

Information sharing was a key theme of both reports and I can confirm that the oversight group will continue the work of the working group to ensure that SPS and Police Scotland continue to have good information sharing and governance.

My last point is that the exclusion and non-eligibility of those who are in prison for violence or carrying a knife and potentially for their links to serious organised crime is something that we will take forward as quickly as we can. I think that that can be done relatively quickly as a presumption, and hope that it can be done relatively quickly on a statutory basis, as well.

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

The review says that the assessment process should be improved—for example, by giving improved access to police intelligence to inform decisions. It also highlights shortcomings in communication and information sharing between the SPS and Police Scotland, particularly regarding the status of people who are unlawfully at large. Can the cabinet secretary confirm whether either or both of those issues, or any of the other recommendations, have a direct bearing on the chief constable’s call for £300 million of funding for what he describes as the vital new information technology project to support Police Scotland and ensure that it can get on with doing its job?

Humza Yousaf

That is a very good question. I do not think that that has a bearing, in that the police are now starting to share that information and intelligence very closely with the SPS. The IT does not seem to be a stumbling block, if that was the question. When I was in front of the Justice Sub-committee on Policing, I said that I understood the importance of the information and communication technology proposal from Police Scotland and I am sympathetic to it, but it will undoubtedly come down to questions of affordability. On the specific question, from what I have seen I do not think that it has a bearing, and the police tell me that they can act on those recommendations relatively quickly.

Neil Bibby (West Scotland) (Lab)

The murder of Craig McClelland shocked and horrified my community. Having met Craig’s family and spoken with his father earlier today, I have found it impossible not to be moved by their strength, their dignity and their determination to get the answers that they deserve. As he told the cabinet secretary, Craig’s father told me that someone said that his son was in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet Craig had every right to be there in his own community. The man convicted of his murder did not.

I welcome the reports, but it is clear that there are still many unanswered questions. Why was locating this offender not a priority? Why was this murderer assessed to be low risk? Why has the system so dramatically failed?

To be absolutely clear, will the justice secretary give a public commitment today to work with the family to find the answers that they need and the truth that they seek?

Humza Yousaf

Very simply, I say yes—I will, and I gave that commitment to the family. I am, of course, more than happy to speak to Neil Bibby about the actions that we will take forward. I have asked the family to take away the reports—they are lengthy, as Neil Bibby knows—and digest them, then come back to me if they want to have further meetings with me. The family is also having meetings with the police and, I understand, the Scottish Prison Service. There may well be many questions that the family feel still need to be answered, and I am more than happy to work with them to do my best to get those questions answered.

Neil Bibby mentioned risk assessment. A key theme throughout both reports is that the risk assessment should give higher priority to whether public safety could be compromised or affected by somebody going on HDC. That is a welcome recommendation in the reports that all of us—all the partners and, of course, the SPS in particular—will take forward immediately.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of the statement. Our thoughts are, of course, with Craig McClelland’s family and friends.

The precautionary principle should apply. If it had, we would not have had the failing.

I welcome the recommendation to make remaining unlawfully at large a specific offence. There are complexities around that. The HMICS report talks about people at large outwith our jurisdiction. Within our jurisdiction, will the cabinet secretary give an assurance that, in lodging an amendment at stage 2, he will not intend to grant the power of arrest or the power of entry to any private company that may be monitoring the home detention scheme?

Humza Yousaf

I have the same vein of thinking that John Finnie has. It is clear that introducing provisions through a stage 2 amendment or otherwise will give us the opportunity to discuss those issues in great detail and at great length, but my gut feeling is the same as John Finnie’s. Making remaining unlawfully at large an offence in legislation should mean that the police should apprehend, arrest or have the power of entry when somebody is unlawfully at large.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I, too, thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of his statement. On behalf of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, I pay tribute to Craig McClelland’s family for their determination that their tragic loss should lead to improvements in our HDC system.

The inspectorates’ reports highlight the failures in HDC and the extent to which people illegally at large were off the radar of the police and the Prison Service. In that context, what specific steps are being taken to address what appears to be a patchwork of IT systems operated by the police and the Prison Service, which appears to have contributed to the shocking and needless tragedy?

Humza Yousaf

My answer to Liam McArthur’s question is similar to my answer to Margaret Mitchell’s question. It has not been made clear that IT was the issue. However, basic information should be shared. That would contribute to making our HDC system and processes more robust. Where there is an IT block to that, a discussion needs to take place, of course. I have already mentioned my understanding of Police Scotland’s proposals to improve its ICT systems. Sharing information, even at the most basic level, could and would strengthen the HDC regime, but I do not think that that requires an upgrade in IT systems, unless the SPS or Police Scotland tells me otherwise. If that is the case, I will, of course, discuss that with my partner agencies.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

The Scottish Government and the cabinet secretary have committed to developing a victim-centred approach across the criminal justice system. How do proposed changes to the home detention curfew fit in with that important commitment?

Humza Yousaf

In my discussion with Craig McClelland’s family this morning, I mentioned the victims task force that I will set up. I said that the input of victims and the families of victims to the task force will be incredibly important. I have invited the McClelland family to send representatives as part of that discussion. What we are doing on HDC is absolutely vital to that work.

The McClelland family told me about the number of gaps that they thought there had been in the entire criminal justice system, from the moment that that terrible tragedy happened to even more recently. We owe it to the victims to make sure that their rights are strengthened, and the victims task force will be part of that.

I return to my answer to Neil Bibby’s question. The risk assessment process will also be important for the victim, because public safety will be given a greater emphasis in that process, which I hope will give the public more reassurance on and confidence in HDC.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The last question goes to Maurice Corry.

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

Will the cabinet secretary commit today to supporting an amendment to the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill to make breaching a tagging order an automatic offence, as Scottish Women’s Aid has called for recently?

Humza Yousaf

I have answered that question in a couple of ways in my statement and in my responses to other members’ questions. I am more than happy to look at that proposal, which we will consider with members here and with many stakeholder organisations, including Scottish Women’s Aid.

I am more than happy to listen to suggestions and feedback from Maurice Corry and other members about that proposal. Whatever is the quickest and most appropriate way to bring forward an offence of being unlawfully at large, I will do it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am sorry that I have been unable to call Jackie Baillie, Willie Coffey, Rona Mackay and John Mason, but we must close questions on the statement and move on.