Penal Policy

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

Pre-Budget Scrutiny

On 9 October 2019, the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee took Pre-Budget Scrutiny evidence from a number of witnesses, including Colin McConnell (Chief Executive, SPS). His evidence included discussion about contingency plans if all, or part of, a facility such as HMP Barlinnie failed, where the hypothetical situation was described as "unchartered territory". It was noted that this wasn't something that had been come across in work in three of the UK jurisdiction prisons, but that in the event of catastrophic failure, there would be a number of options. One was based on the knowledge that SPS has active contingency plans for up to 500 additional people to be located in other establishments, noting that in the early stages this would compromise of no more than a mattress on the floor and the provision of appropriate toiletries. It was outlined that if the whole prison became unusable, there would be a requirement to talk to the Scottish Government about executive release, because SPS could not find places for 1,400 people in a system which is already overstretched. 
 
The evidence stated that the SPS had a current operating capacity of 7,669 with an operating emergency capacity of 8,492. With current numbers at 8,297 this would leave headspace of 195 places.
 
 
 

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