Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 25th June 2019.

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Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The purpose of my amendment is to address an anomaly in the law that was first raised with me by my constituent Michelle Gavin almost three years ago.

An intruder broke Michelle Gavin’s fence while trying to avoid a police officer. Rather than take him to court, the procurator fiscal offered the intruder a fiscal fine—a compensation order requiring him to pay the householder £400 to fix her fence.

When I raised that case during stage 2 consideration in April, the money paid to my constituent amounted to £7.50. Thanks to the spotlight of parliamentary scrutiny, that has now risen to £15. That means that £385 remains outstanding three years after the damage took place. By any standard, the law has failed that victim, just as it has many thousands of others. That is why change is required.

Michelle Gavin has received only a fraction of the compensation owed to her, in part because the perpetrator is under no legal obligation to provide information on his income, savings or benefits, or any other relevant information that would help to ensure that he paid the fiscal fine. It is far harder for the courts to enforce such an order. That is why my amendment proposes to make completing a declaration of income form, which is relevant in this case, mandatory.

When I moved a similar amendment at stage 2, members suggested that it should make provision for reasonable excuse and specify a time limit for completing the form. I have addressed those points in the revised amendment.

Perhaps more importantly, the cabinet secretary said at stage 2 that he would rather not rely on declaration of income forms since the necessary information could be obtained direct from United Kingdom Government departments. I am very open to that approach. The Digital Economy Act 2017 contains provisions to allow the courts to obtain information about benefits and earnings directly from Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs databases, but that requires the Scottish ministers to introduce the necessary regulations to allow the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to put the appropriate arrangements in place.

I return to the issue in order to discover from the cabinet secretary whether such regulations have been drafted and, if so, when he expects them to be laid. I also ask whether those regulations will ensure that data sharing will apply to fines that have not yet been paid, as well as to new cases decided after the regulations are passed.

Michelle Gavin has already waited far too long. My purpose is to ensure that her case can be revisited by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, using new powers to obtain information so that she can get the money to which she is entitled, whether those powers come from this amendment or from Government regulations on sharing data. I look forward to the cabinet secretary’s contribution.

I move amendment 121.