Argyll police stations face closure threat

John Finnie 2John Finnie has written to the Chief Constable after it emerged that dozens of police stations – including several in Argyll – are under threat of closure.

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Scotland has revealed that Police Scotland buildings in 58 locations are being reviewed, including Oban, Loghgilphead, Campbelltown, Inverary and Taynuilt.

John is the Justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens and MSP for the Highlands and Islands. He said:

“Of course all organisations should review processes.

“I don’t doubt some of these buildings will be less than ideal for modern needs, some of the locations on the list are very worrying whilst closure of any of the Argyll stations is unacceptable.

“With five stations in Argyll under threat suggests we could have next to no visible police presence on the West coast at all.

“While many people do use phone and the internet to interact with police, there is still a significant number of people – many elderly and vulnerable – who do not. Accessibility is paramount.

“In the past, Police Scotland have handled counter closures badly, so lessons must be learned.

“While there is much to be said for co-location of public services, such as Police and Fire or Police and Council sharing, we must prevent withdrawal from communities.

“Public confidence is vital. I look forward to the Chief Constable’s reply.”

John’s speech on Brexit, justice and security

2014-11-11-jf-human-rights-debateJohn spoke in today’s debate on Scotland’s economy on behalf of the Scottish Greens. The debate discussed this motion by Michael Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice:

Motion S5M-02203: Michael Matheson, Falkirk West, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 31/10/2016
UK Referendum on EU Membership: Impacts on Justice and Security in Scotland

That the Parliament acknowledges the result of the UK referendum on EU membership in Scotland; recognises the continuing importance of EU membership to Scotland; acknowledges the benefits to the justice system of EU-wide cooperation and the extent to which the current Scottish justice system is shaped and informed by EU law, as well as the benefits to Scotland’s mixed legal system, which includes civilian elements; notes that any repeal of the EU justice and law enforcement measures will have an impact on the effectiveness of law enforcement and an increase in costs in law enforcement procedures due to the lack of harmonised systems and standards already established; acknowledges the pivotal role played by EUROPOL in facilitating and supporting the international cooperation necessary to combat cross-border crime and terrorism; resolves to promote Scotland’s willingness to continue to collaborate with European partners, and calls on the UK Government to ensure that Scotland has a role in the decision-making, as well as full involvement in all negotiations between the UK Government and the EU, to protect Scotland’s independent justice system.

John’s speech is below. You can see it in the full debate transcript here, or watch it on YouTube here.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green):

I think it is very important that we debate the subject. As we heard from Jenny Marra, justice is a top priority for our citizens, and an obligation is placed on any state, however it is configured, to see to the security of its citizens and provide justice for them. Key to that is collaborative working, and that is what the European project was about. It was not about setting aside the unique nature of Scots law; it was the mix that was important.

In my view, the clear motivation for the European Union referendum was disengagement from that sort of approach. That has led to alienation and, in some respects, disrespect for the United Kingdom and, by default, Scotland, and I think that it has put security at risk. It has been gesture politics and we continue to hear gesture politics.

We have been there before — I think that only the cabinet secretary has briefly alluded to this — when it came to the Lisbon treaty, which was agreed in 2009. A final decision on United Kingdom participation in 133 justice and police co-operation measures required to be taken no later than 31 May 2014. A convoluted process was involved in that, but nonetheless there was a five-year window following the Lisbon treaty and there was ample opportunity for the UK Government to engage with the devolved Administrations on whether to exercise the block opt-out. After the Lisbon agreement, the arrangements were that it was possible to come in on an individual basis but, for the measures that were agreed before it, a block opt-out had to be exercised.

The important point there was that, despite letters from the Scottish ministers as far on as in April and August 2012, there was very little action. It was clear that the Scottish Government’s position was that some elements that were part of the pre-2009 agreement were defunct and had limited impact. However — it is a big however — there were other significant measures, which have continually been alluded to, including the investigation of cross-border crimes, measures to bring serious organised criminals to justice and the European arrest warrant, Scotland’s experience of which has been entirely positive.

What is at risk if we do not have that approach? I will miss out the names, but examples were given to those of us who were on the Justice Committee at that time. The Deputy Presiding Officer, Christine Grahame, and my colleague Margaret Mitchell will be familiar with this. We heard about a murder case in which the individual was arrested within a day of the extradition request being issued and was swiftly returned to Scotland. Importantly, the warrant allowed the seizure of clothing and other property before it could be destroyed, which would have affected the evidential value, and it led to a successful prosecution.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (Lib Dem):

I join John Finnie in supporting the European arrest warrant, but he said that it had been wholly successful. Even as somebody who supports the warrant, I note that some legitimate concerns have been raised about the proportionality test for those extraditions. Further work will need to be done in that area, without detracting from the support that is rightly given to the warrant itself.

John Finnie:

The member makes an interesting point but, if it is a numbers game, it has to be seen that it is 5 million people versus the entire population of the remainder of the EU, so it does look disproportionate. The important thing is the speed and efficiency with which action was undertaken.

Another example that we were given involved a violent attack and a murder in 2012. The individual was arrested through the European arrest warrant system within five hours of the issue of the arrest warrant, but also — importantly — by direct contact between the Scottish and Polish authorities under the European judicial network. We need to consider not simply the police operations, which are very important for all the reasons that we have heard, but the value of co-operation at the judicial and prosecutorial level.

There was support from the Scottish ministers, the police, the prosecutors, legal professionals, academics and the House of Lords European Union Select Committee inquiry, which took the view that the benefits of opting out of defunct or ineffective pre-Lisbon measures did not justify the risk of losing those measures that are essential in tackling cross-border crime.

The most telling aspect of what we learned at the time, when the Presiding Officer was convener of the Justice Committee, was that the UK ministers did not consult the Scottish ministers or the Scottish justice agencies on the matter. Although 35 of the measures were ultimately opted back into, I would hate to think that we are about to see that model again. If we did see it, that would be bad news for law enforcement, the judicial network, our civil law and our contractual law, and it would be good news for those who seek to circumvent the law — most commonly criminals. The benefits of the European arrest warrant are well understood.

The issue of taking evidence was raised by my colleague Claire Baker, and there have been developments in that field both in this jurisdiction and elsewhere — another opportunity that could be lost.

The briefing from the Law Society of Scotland, for which I am grateful, talks about stability in the law and says:

“The primary objective of judicial security and police cooperation is the safety of the citizen, as a guiding principle there should be no change to the law which would prejudice the safety and security of the individual.”

We simply do not know. At the moment, lots of guessing is taking place. Going back to the Lisbon agreement, the concern was that, if that had not been concluded in time, we needed reassurance in Scotland about the potential gap in legislation. I think that a big gap is potentially opening up.

The Scottish Green Party will support the Labour Party’s amendment, because we think that it is important that there is analysis. It is also important that we consider the issue of transitional arrangements. For any piece of legislation, we know what has happened in the past and we can perhaps agree what is going to happen in the future; all the complexity is in the transition.

The Scottish Green Party will support the Scottish Government’s efforts to ensure the following for people living in Scotland: that their democratic wishes are respected; that they have access to a quality legal system that co-operates with others; and that their security is assured, which is best achieved by conflict resolution. We believe that all those things are being put at risk by Tory recklessness.

John calls for review of court rules to protect rape victims

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has called on the Scottish Government to investigate whether current laws are sufficient to prevent defence lawyers using rape victims’ sexual history against them in court.

Introducing a complainant’s sexual history as evidence was, in theory, banned in most cases by the 2002 Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence) Act. But in the first three months of this year, there were 57 applications to use sexual history evidence, of which only 9 were refused. Prosecutors only opposed 6 of the applications.

Despite similar laws being in place in England, the sexual history of the complainant was made a central part of the footballer Ched Evans’ successful appeal against his conviction for rape. This evidence was described by Rape Crisis Scotland as “blatantly prejudicial,” and contributed to the campaign of public shaming, harassment and threats she experienced.

Click here to read John Finnie's letter to the Justice Secretary (PDF).
Click here to read John Finnie’s letter to the Justice Secretary.
John is the Justice Spokesperson for the Scottish Greens. He has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, asking him to commission an in-depth review of how the law on sexual history evidence is applied, and whether it is doing enough to protect victims. The laws have not been reviewed in this way since 2006.

He has also lodged a parliamentary question asking what protections are in place to ensure victims are not further harmed by the public exposure of their sexual history.

John said:

“Victims of rape and other sex crimes are too often re-victimised by the ordeal of the investigation and trial. They should not suffer having their sexual history pulled apart in court in an attempt to discredit them – and, in theory, we have laws to prevent that.

“However, women going through the system regularly report being asked intimate questions about their sexual history. A Scottish Government data-gathering exercise found that in the first three months of 2016, there were 57 applications to introduce complainants’ sexual history in court, and judges refused only 9 of them.

“It has been 10 years since the last review of how our laws on sexual history evidence are working. We don’t know how many rape victims are being traumatised by unnecessary questioning, or how many cases are being prejudiced by character assassination – but the experience of charities like Rape Crisis Scotland suggests it’s too many.

“That’s why I’m asking for a detailed evaluation of how this law is operating in practice. If that study shows it doesn’t effectively protecting victims, the urgency of a new, stricter law that does will be undeniable.”

John welcomes police commitment on dangerously slow driving

John Finnie three-quarterJohn Finnie has urged police to take seriously the issue of dangerously slow driving on roads like the A82, and says he welcomes Police Scotland’s positive response.

John wrote to Police Scotland leadership to raise the issue of slow driving, which is especially prevalent on scenic roads during the tourist season.

In reply, the Local Area Commander for road policing in the North, Chief Inspector Louis Blakelock, recognised the problem, saying:

“You correctly raise the point that inappropriate speed, like driving too slow, does as you suggest lead to frustration and irresponsible driver behaviour.

“Driving slowly, causing tailbacks and frustration is a behaviour that falls within the provisions of Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (Careless Driving) and this type of behaviour is one that is routinely addressed by Police Officers patrolling the A82 and other roads.

“I wish to reassure you that Police Officers tasked with patrolling the A82 will be made aware of your concerns and they will continue to challenge inappropriate speed in the circumstances you describe as part of their core duties on the A82 and other trunk roads”

John said:

“While excessive speed remains one of the biggest threats to safety on our roads, driving too slowly on trunk roads is also a significant problem.

“During tourist season especially, queues can readily form on our trunk roads behind vehicles travelling 30mph whose occupants are effectively sight-seeing.

“This of course causes great frustration and can lead to increased danger from behaviours such as irresponsible overtaking.

“I’m pleased with Ch Insp Blakelock’s positive response to the issue, and I hope the increase in dedicated Road Policing Officers will help keep vital roads like the A82 flowing smoothly and safely.”

John seeks assurances on armed police

 

Yesterday (Thursday 17th June) the Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson announced that the number of armed police officers in Scotland was set to rise following intelligence about the on-going threat level in the country. You can read the Cabinet Secretary’s, including John’s question here: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10472&i=96491&c=1926523#ScotParlOR

Commenting afterwards John said:

“The Justice Secretary must accept that there will be serious public concern about today’s announcement. Although there is information informing the threat level, we must question the quality of the intelligence received and whether it has been obtained legitimately, especially in light of recent revelations about the Scottish Recording Centre.

“I previously challenged Police Scotland over the deployment of armed officers on routine activities. The public will rightly be wondering if the increase in numbers of armed officers will lead to mission creep. I welcome today’s assurance that the deployment policy implemented two years ago will be maintained, meaning that armed police should only be used in firearms incidents or where there is a threat to life.

“If the threat level reduces we must see a reduction in use of armed officers. In putting that point to the Justice Secretary he conceded that a reduction in threat level would allow the level of deployment to be revisited, and I would hope we reach that point in the near future.”

 

Scottish Recording Centre surveillance breaches human rights

John Finnie - Amnesty InternationalJohn Finnie has questioned the Cabinet Secretary for Justice about the latest revelations of the use of mass surveillance by Scottish police.

Documents released by US whistleblower Edward Snowden show that a policing body called the Scottish Recording Centre was given access to swathes of communications data including phone activity, internet histories and social media behaviour.

John is the Scottish Greens spokesperson on Justice, and a former police officer himself.

He said:

“This sort of blanket surveillance is out of proportion, inefficient and incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The Cabinet Secretary today attempted to give the impression that all policing activities in Scotland are proportional and that interceptions are independently approved but as we know that is not always the case.

“There is clearly a culture of bulk collection of data that needs reined in. I will continue to challenge such over-reaching activities.”

You can read John’s exchange with the Justice Minister in the Scottish Parliament Official Report, or watch it on YouTube.

John appointed to two Holyrood committees

Large committee room in the Scottish Parliament
Photo: Adam Elder / Scottish Parliament
John Finnie has been appointed to the Scottish Parliament’s committees on Justice and on Rural Economy and Connectivity.

John has served on the Justice Committee since 2011, drawing on his experience as a former Northern Constabulary police officer. Most notably, he used Justice Committee hearings to hold Police Scotland to account over officers carrying firearms while on routine duties – a campaign for which he received the title of Community MSP of the Year at the 2014 Herald Scottish Politician of the Year Awards.

His appointment to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee – which is also responsible for transport, agriculture and the Islands – reflects John’s new role as the Scottish Greens’ spokesperson on Transport, Tourism and Rural & Island Communities, as well as remaining the party’s spokesperson on Justice.

John said:

“I’m delighted to be appointed for a second term on the Justice Committee, where my priorities will include restoring the community ethos to Scottish policing, and defending our hard-won human rights.

“Joining the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is an exciting opportunity to push for the investment the Highlands and Islands needs to make the most of our huge potential in sustainable industries like food, forestry and clean energy.”

The Committees are a vital part of the Scottish Parliament. Holyrood only has one chamber – it has no equivalent of the House of Lords – so the Committees are responsible for making sure proposed new laws, and the work of the government, are scrutinised in detail. Committees can also conduct inquiries into issues within their policy area, calling witnesses including government ministers and officials, outside experts, and people who are directly affected.

The six Green MSPs were appointed to a total of 11 Committee places. The other Green assignments are:

  • Ross Greer (West Scotland) — European and External Relations Committee; Education and Skills Committee
  • Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) — Finance Committee; Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee
  • Alison Johnstone (Lothian) — Health and Sport Committee; Social Security Committee
  • Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) — Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee
  • Andy Wightman (Lothian) — Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee; Local Government and Communities Committee

You can see the full line-up for all of the new committees in the Scottish Parliament Official Report.