Parole Board for Scotland

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 2nd December 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 12:00 pm, 2nd December 2004

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Executive will ensure that the Parole Board for Scotland upholds the rights of victims and their families. (S2F-1252)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

We are absolutely determined to ensure that the interests of victims are taken into account whenever decisions are taken to release offenders from prison. The Minister for Justice has indicated to the Parole Board that she expects it to make improvements in public accountability to reassure the public that that is so.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

I am sure that the First Minister agrees that it is unacceptable for victims to be afraid to go about their daily business for fear of meeting their newly freed assailant. New rights and information will be welcome. However, does the First Minister agree that we need to go further and bring to an end the attitude of authorities towards victims and their families in my constituency and elsewhere in Scotland that it is none of their business?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It is important to recognise that sections 16 and 17 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 provide new rights for victims to register a specific interest in the potential release of those who have offended against them and to receive information in advance of that release so that they can make representations to the Parole Board for Scotland about receiving information following any decision about release.

We must examine whether those rights are adequate in the circumstances and whether further improvements can be put in place. We must also ensure that the public are well aware of how the Parole Board makes its decisions and that the board can justify its decisions. That is precisely why the Minister for Justice has initiated discussions with the Parole Board on that subject, and I am sure that the Parliament will be informed of the outcome of those discussions in due course.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I associate myself with the concerns of my colleague across the chamber, Duncan McNeil.

In considering a prisoner's suitability for release, does the Parole Board take any account of the availability of programmes and support in the community for the prisoner when they leave the prison service? If it already operates such a policy, is it the lack of such services that causes the inspector of prisons to comment adversely on the number of prisoners who remain in prison?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I will make two points. First, the Parole Board certainly should take availability into account, and the improvements in public accountability that the Minister for Justice wants to see would reassure us all that that happens, because we would be able to see proof that decisions are based on the fullest range of information and advice from the different services.

Secondly, Stewart Stevenson's point raises the important advances that we require to make in offender management in Scotland. Currently, in too many parts of the country, there is at least a perception—if it is not the reality—that the service is not joined up. There is a lack of public confidence in community services and there are far too many problems in the prison service relating to reoffending and a revolving-door approach to prisoners. We must ensure that we have a joined-up offender management service in Scotland that brings the different elements together. I hope that the comments that have been made today indicate that the Scottish National Party is moving towards supporting us in that initiative.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I very much welcome what the First Minister has said about accountability. However, does he agree that any additional scrutiny of Parole Board decisions should remain faithful to the principle that was established in the first parliamentary session that ministers should not interfere in individual parole decisions?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It is important that politicians should not interfere in individual Parole Board decisions and that the Parole Board should make a proper, independent assessment of the situation. However, if the Parole Board has such independence and such rights, it must be publicly accountable for the way in which decisions are made and for the impact of those decisions. That is the right balance for us to try to strike and precisely the balance that the Minister for Justice hopes to achieve.