Penal Policy

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2018-19

On 16 June 2020, the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2018-19 was published. (An updated version, which supersedes the original, was published in October 2020.) The report covers 5,537 interviews conducted between April 2018 and May 2019 and presents statistics on the extent of crime in Scotland, importantly including crime that is not reported to the police, although does not cover all crime types*.

It found that the volume of crime in Scotland, including incidents not reported to the police, fell by 45% over the last decade and by 20% since 2016/17.  The proportion of adults experiencing crime decreased from one-in-five to one-in-eight between 2008/09 and 2018/19. Consistent with previous years, the majority of violent incidents - which made up 29% of all crimes - were cases of minor assault resulting in no or negligible injury (60%), with instances of serious assault (7%) and robbery (3%) remaining relatively uncommon.

Victims of two or more incidents (3.5% of adults) accounted for over half (55%) of all crime in 2018/19, with repeat victims of violence (0.7% adults) estimated to have experienced three-fifths (60%) of all violent crime in 2018/19.

It found that the the likelihood of being a victim of any crime in 2018/19 was higher for those living in the most deprived areas of Scotland, and that violent crime continues to be experienced disproportionately among some groups in the population. 

*experiences of sexual offences are not included in the main estimates 

Jackie Tombs – A Note of Appreciation

We at HLS are sad to report the death of Professor Jacqueline Tombs, following a short illness. Jackie was a stalwart supporter of HLS and a former committee member. Her passionate support for penal change reflected her lifelong commitment to fairness, social justice and decency – qualities that were evident to all who knew her in everything she did.

Jackie was a significant figure in criminal justice policy and research throughout her career and in a range of different roles. She was formerly Head of the Central Research Unit in the then Scottish Executive, during a period when it was noted for producing imaginative and challenging policy research.  A number of highly distinguished researchers – including Lesley McAra, Susan McVie and Michele Burman – began their careers there under her mentorship.

Later on, she was successively Professor of Criminology at Stirling, and Professor of Criminology and Social Justice at Glasgow Caledonian University. She was a founding and key member of the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice, for whom she wrote the important and insightful study A Unique Punishment: Sentencing and the Prison Population in Scotland (2004).  Few people – if indeed any other – have done so much to maintain the vital links between research-based knowledge and policy in Scotland.

Jackie never lost her radical convictions, and she was not afraid to voice her views with passion and force in any context. Yet her innate empathy and her grasp of complex situations always enabled her to see others’ points of view. That made her a unifying figure, as comfortable among senior judges as among prison abolitionists, and held in similar affection and esteem by both. 

Jackie was a vital and energizing person, fiercely loyal both to people and to causes. HLS, the worlds of criminal justice policy and criminological research in Scotland all owe her many debts. We send our greetings and condolences to her children Gael and Mark and all her other family and friends.  She will be well remembered and greatly missed.

Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill Passed

On 20 February 2020, after years of campaigning, legislation was finally passed to lift the blanket ban on convicted prisoners voting.

It's been fifteen years since the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the UK blanket ban on prisoner voting was in breach of Article 3 of Protocol 1 (A3P1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (Hirst v. the United Kingdom (No.2)).

We gave evidence to the Referendum (Scotland) Bill Committee on the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill. We gave evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. We responded to the Scottish Government's consultation on prisoner voting. We gave written and oral evidence to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointment Committee. 

We argued that a custodial sentence alone was too low a threshold for the loss of such an important right. That removing the right to vote from those serving shorter sentences had particularly arbitrary effects. That it worked against rehabilitation. That this was an opportunity to put down a marker about the value placed on democratic rights and social justice in Scotland. That we should follow the example set by other Council of Europe states. That it was about human rights and citizenship. That it was about much more than the minimum level of compliance with our legal obligations.

And on Thursday 20 February 2020, with 92 votes 'for' and 27 votes 'against', the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill was passed, enfranchising those sentenced to 12 months or less in custody, and ensuring that a review of the appropriateness of the 12 months cut-off point was delivered by 4 May 2023. 

We're delighted that the blanket ban has been removed, and wish to thank all our members and supporters past and present for their efforts in helping us and others to achieve this.

Of course, there's more to be done ... only extending the franchise to those sentenced to 12 months or less could still be successfully challenged through the European Court of Human Rights. We need to legislate to extend voting rights much further, so that all those people who have spent time in prison return to a community of which they feel a part and believe that they have a stake in its future. We'll also need to ensure that those who wish to vote have the information and support required to do so.

But today, let's take a (brief) moment to remember how far we've come.

Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill 

Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act

On 29 November the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act came into effect, raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12. Our view continues to be that this should be raised further. The Act contains a commitment to review the age limit and one of our Committee Members sits on the Advisory Group on Reviewing the Age of Criminal Responsibility.

Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill Report

On 13 November, the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee published its report on evidence taken on the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representations) Bill. It concluded that they “would like to see the … policy on prisoner voting driven by principle and evidence” and that “the Scottish Government has settled on an approach which fails to address the central question of what disenfranchisement seeks to achieve”. We will continue to campaign for the franchise to be extended to all prisoners.

Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee Report

HLS written evidence

HLS oral evidence

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