Tuesday, April 10, 2012

SNP Govt get it totally wrong as Jails chief speaks out about the removal of independent visiting committees, bad SNP idea should be scrapped now!

Dear All

The SNP has made a major mistake on wanting to abolish Prison Visiting Committees (VCs).

In any society there must be checks and balances, the Prison Visiting Committees provide that service not just to prisoners but to the public.

One cannot express strongly the importance of independence in the SNP, but the drive towards centralisation or dependence by the party is wrong.

Typically and unsurprisingly the mistake was made in the Justice Portfolio run by Kenny MacAskill, when a major screw up occurs, it isn’t a case of where in the SNP Government this has happened but what has gone wrong in justice this time.

Justice isn’t a flagship SNP policy area, it is an area that is so weak, that you can effectively forget independence as a serious option and go straight to ‘devo plus’ campaigning.

That’s how bad justice is.

Scotland’s chief inspector of prisons is Hugh Munro.

Munro has expressed his disappointment that the Scottish Government took his comments out of context to support their proposals to disband the country's historic visiting committees.

The committees were set up in 1871.

The committees are to be replaced by an advocacy service.

In other words, the prison service will be investigating itself and independent scrutiny will be shut out.

In an astonishing outspoken attack, Brigadier Hugh Monro, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for Scotland (HMCIPS), has let rip at the way he has been portrayed by ministers in their moves to end the committees.

In a letter to the Justice Committee that month, he wrote:

"HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Brigadier Hugh Monro has welcomed the creation of a prisoner advocacy service saying it is a positive move, which reflects the needs of today's prison population."

Brigadier Monro has since clarified to the press:

"My remarks were taken out of context and were seen as supporting only an advocacy service, and I have also supported the need for independent monitoring. I was not consulted on the decision to disband VCs and to replace them with an 'advocacy service'. I did and do support the idea of an advocacy service, but we already have a prison complaints process, overseen by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman. The VCs would argue they help prisoners with their complaints. My real concern is that in the future Scotland's prisons must continue to be regularly and effectively monitored by an independent service”.

Munro added:

"This view is supported by the National Preventative Mechanism (NPM), a group of 18 organisations that monitor places of detention across the United Kingdom in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Opcat). Here HMCIPS is one of the five Scottish organisations which is part of the NPM."

So, there you have it, the SNP is becoming increasingly out of touch with mainstream thinking on human rights and the protection of such rights.

In the Cadder case which was all about the SNP Government denying the right to a fair trial, Scotland had to be saved by the UK Supreme Court.

The SNP Government and MacAskill in particular argued that Scotland should be closer to the English system, he made a great fuss of that point.

This episode was a major MacAskill blunder on three counts, not having the ability to recognise he was wrong, unable and unwilling to change unless forced and siding with the Crown Office to protect their vested interests.

Ian Hamilton of Stone of Destiny fame opines that MacAskill is unfit to be Justice Minister.

George Laird agrees; the Justice Minister is to be completely impartial; MacAskill has nailed his colours to the Crown Office.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has already said that, without independent monitoring, prisoners' rights could be breached.

In that respect they are totally right, and the opportunity to cover abuse is too great to be ignored.

The Commission says that visiting committees should be made fully independent in line with England and Wales also.

When this donkey was trailed by MacAskill and following opposition to the decision from the committees plus the Tories and Green Party, MacAskill said he would conduct further consultations.

You don’t need consultation, this idea is bullshit, scrap it, bite the bullet and walk away from it.

It is time that the SNP Government started listening to the people again; in their arrogance to be the ‘new establishment’ they are in danger of entering the 2016 election as an unpopular government.

So, solution, the current visiting committees should be moved to a system modelled on the English Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs).

That way, the SNP Government can save face, the system gets rebranded, independent monitoring is guaranteed.

The other alternative is that the SNP continue not to listen and follow SNP MSP Bill Walker into exile.

I wrote recently that some SNP MSPs will be one term MSPs only.

Not to change course will see that number increase dramatically.

Yours sincerely

George Laird
The Campaign for Human Rights at Glasgow University

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