Scottish Government
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Making Scotland safer

Sweeping reforms to Scotland's criminal law and court procedures - in the form of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill - were unveiled today.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said:

"Scotland can be proud of its law enforcement agencies and all of those working in the wider criminal justice system.

"Devolution has allowed us to make significant reforms to our justice system. Our investment in policing has delivered record numbers of officers on our streets, while crime is at its lowest level in a generation.

"This Bill can significantly strengthen the hand of our law enforcement agencies to tackle serious organised crime linked to drugs, money laundering, human trafficking and sexual exploitation and give police and the courts new powers to deal with predatory sex offenders.

"At the same time, we must act to turn around the unacceptably high reoffending rates that have persisted for too long - and which underline the failure of existing approaches to actually change offending behaviour before it escalates into serious crime.

"The Bill will also help tackle the corrosive impact of alcohol misuse in our communities, whether fuelling antisocial behaviour and disorder or more serious crimes that have claimed the lives of too many of our people."

The legislation includes provisions to:

  • Create new offences of directing, involvement in or failing to report serious organised crime, with prison sentences up to 14 years, and new powers for prosecutors to apply for financial reporting orders
  • Allow the Crown to appeal against court decisions that end solemn trials without a jury verdict, enabling retrials where this is upheld
  • Establish a statutory regime for disclosure of evidence in criminal trials
  • End the loophole that allows spouses/civil partners to avoid giving evidence against their partner, eg, in cases of alleged child abuse
  • Widen the scope of Sexual Offences Prevention Orders, enable prosecutors to apply for these when sex offenders are sentenced and extend travel ban periods of Foreign Travel Orders
  • Outlaw the possession of extreme pornography and increase maximum jail terms for publishing, selling or distributing it
  • Establish a Sentencing Council to develop guidelines and improve transparency and public confidence in sentencing
  • Create a presumption against short prison sentences and provide for tough new Community Payback Orders, requiring offenders to repay the community for the damage they have done with penalties that reduce their likelihood of reoffending and so protect communities
  • Make the changes needed to reflect the independent Scottish Prisons Commission's recommendations for a workable sentence management regime for those offenders who are sent to prison
  • Raise the age at which children can be prosecuted in the adult courts from 8 to 12, and end the remand of children in adult prisons;
  • Enable police to temporarily retain forensic evidence relating to serious violent and sexual offences dealt with in the Children's Hearings System
  • Require licensing boards' to consider raising the minimum purchase age for alcohol off-sales to 21 in certain areas, create powers to introduce a social responsibility fee and widen the scope of police powers to object to individual licence applications

Mr MacAskill added:

"If passed by Parliament, the Bill will empower police, prosecutors and the courts to take on and send down organised crime gangs and other serious and dangerous criminals who threaten the safety of our people.

"There can be no hiding place for those who peddle drugs and despair on our streets and no compromise in curbing the activities of predatory adults whose behaviour poses a risk to our children and others.

"This Bill can also help us to break the hopeless and perpetual cycle of short prison spells, which lead to a loss of employment, housing and family ties and a greater likelihood of reoffending on release.

"Three-quarters of those given a prison sentence of six months or less reoffend within two years while almost three-in-five sentenced to community service instead have a clean record over the same period.

"The Bill proposes a presumption against these short periods of imprisonment and provides for tough new community sentences, to be started earlier, to be monitored under new 'progress courts' to deliver visible benefits to communities and help tackle individuals' offending behaviour.

"We will also make clear that younger children who offend will continue to be dealt with in the Hearings System and, where necessary held in secure accommodation, and not in adult courts or prisons - addressing both their needs and deeds and minimising contact with adult criminals.

"I look forward to working with members across the Parliament to ensure the final legislation that emerges is as strong and effective as it can be, to ensure that we secure safe, strong communities right across Scotland."

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