APRIL IS THE CRUELLEST MONTH …
After a quiet start, Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson has been much in the news of late. Criticised for undermining devolution itself by allowing the Scottish Civil Partnership legislation to be carried through at Westminster (No 341), and for undermining the Scottish legal system by allowing DCAf proposals for a UK Supreme Court to proceed unchecked (No 280), in April 2004 she found herself under further pressure: first, this time, for undermining marriage and then, finally, public safety. It’s quite a collection of underminings.
The family life criticism came following publication of her department’s latest consultation on family law (Family Matters: Improving Family Law in Scotland, accessible at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/consultations/justice/iflis-00.asp), in which it is declared that there are firm intentions to reduce the non-cohabitation periods for divorce (from 5 to 2 years in cases without consent, 2 to 1 in cases with) and to introduce parental rights and responsibilities for unmarried fathers, while views are sought again on legal protection for cohabitation, the introduction of step-parent parental rights and responsibilities, and rights of contact for grandparents.
The concern about public safety came after the aptly-named Reliance, the private company contracting with the Scottish Prison Service to provide prisoner court escort services, mistakenly allowed a convicted murderer to escape on 8 April 2004; police warned the public that the escapee was dangerous and should not be approached. Court proceedings were severely slowed down by the new organisation’s unfamiliarity with procedures. The Justice Minister’s predecessor may have been responsible for the policy of privatisation which led to the Reliance contract, but she was the one who had to deal with the consequences.
It must have been reassuring to hear Jack McOnnell the First Minister describe her as an outstanding minister.