Briefing on Community Justice (Scotland) Bill

Briefing on Community Justice (Scotland) Bill


Briefing provided by:

Apex Scotland (
Circle Scotland (
Families Outside (
Howard League Scotland (
Turning Point Scotland (
Venture Trust (
Up-2-Us (

“…my vision for penal reform in Scotland is one which I believe reflects the values of a modern and progressive nation, in which prison - and in particular short-term imprisonment - is used less frequently as a disposal; where there is a stronger emphasis on robust community sentences focused on actively addressing the underlying causes of offending behaviour.”

Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice
Apex Scotland Annual Lecture, 1 September 2015

Scotland’s imprisonment rate is the second highest amongst the nations of Western Europe. As a recent editorial in The Daily Record (6 November 2015) noted, “That is not a badge of honour.” We therefore welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Justice’s vision of a modern, progressive justice system in Scotland, in which prison is reserved for the most serious offenders who pose a risk to public safety. More than that, we share his commitment to achieving that vision.

If we are to reduce the use of imprisonment in Scotland, there will need to be a greater shift in emphasis and resources towards early prevention, diversion and community-based responses to offending behaviour. Good intentions are not enough. We must ensure that any proposed structural changes have a realistic chance of achieving this shift. While we welcome the creation of a national body with a specific focus on non-custodial sentencing, we are concerned that it does not have the necessary powers to deliver the fundamental change required.

We are concerned about the ability of provisions contained within the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill, as currently conceived, to deliver on this aspiration. Our concerns – some of which were highlighted in the Justice Committee’s Stage 1 report - are set out below:

Definition of ‘community justice’
We are concerned that the scope of the Bill is restricted to those who have already committed an offence, and that this definition differs from that used in the Scottish Government’s 2014 consultation on a Future Model for Community Justice . It also runs counter to the recommendations of the 2011 Christie Commission, which concluded that “High levels of public resources are devoted annually to alleviating social problems and tackling ‘failure demand’” .

Accountability deficit
It is difficult to see how the Chief Executive of Community Justice Scotland (CJS) can be held accountable for the delivery of national outcomes, when the organisation has no powers or levers to ensure that appropriate services are delivered locally. At a local level, governance arrangements for Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) are known to be complex and often ineffective in holding partners to account for delivery of agreed outcomes. Who locally can be held to account if agreed community justice outcomes are not met in one area compared to other similar areas?

The Bill does not change the funding arrangements for community justice services in any significant way. The majority of funding will continue to go to local authorities. The continuation of the existing funding arrangements means there are no incentives or levers to shift resources in the long term from custodial to non-custodial services. It also means that it will be difficult to shift resources around the country the meet the individual needs of offenders in different areas as these change over time.

Cluttered landscape
It was intended that the Bill would address the ‘cluttered landscape’ of community justice services identified in the report of the Commission on Women Offenders . Given that the Bill proposes handing responsibility for community justice to 32 community justice partnerships, which will then need to liaise with the 32 community planning partnerships (compared with the existing eight Community Justice Authorities), it is hard to see that the landscape will become any less cluttered. The majority of community justice partners are national bodies, many of which may find it difficult to effectively participate in local planning and resourcing appropriate community justice services across all 32 local authority areas.

In an era of financial austerity, and with all the other competing agendas CPPs have to grapple with, we are concerned that community justice will simply not be a priority.

Engaging the third sector
The third sector is a vital player in the planning and delivery of community-based responses to offending. Currently the Bill makes no reference to how the third sector will be engaged as part of the new arrangements. Nor is it clear that the new arrangements will address concerns about the sustainability of services and interventions delivered by the third sector and the sector’s reliance on short-term funding cycles.

Bureaucratic burden
Whilst we all support appropriate levels of planning, performance management and evaluation, the reporting requirements set out in the Bill are considerable. There is a risk that CPP staff will end up spending their time on paperwork, rather than enabling the delivery of innovative and effective services.

Considered alongside the current consultation reviewing the use of short-term sentences and the establishment of the Scottish Sentencing Council, we have an opportunity in Scotland to make some headway in reducing the size of our prison population. The arrangements for community justice are a vital piece of this jigsaw. We are of the view that the draft Community Justice (Scotland) Bill as it stands will require significant alteration during the remainder of the parliamentary process if it is to make a meaningful contribution to achieving our shared vision of a modern, progressive justice system.

17 November 2015

Submissions to Justice Committee prior to Stage 1 evidence sessions: