As the Skye and Kyle Against the Tolls group prepared to renew its campaign of non-payment of the Skye Bridge tolls, in protest at the failure of the Scottish Executive to implement the part of the Partnership Agreement pledging to remove the tolls (see No 228), Highland Regional Council also announced on 7 May 2004 that it was seeking judicial review of the Executive’s inaction. The challenge is based upon the argument that the tolls would be charged for only as long as needed to repay the cost of building the bridge; and it is alleged that this has now been exceeded by some £4 million.
On 26 April 2004 Lord Bonomy in the Court of Session held that the practice of prisoners ‘slopping out’ in Scottish prisons violated Articles 3 (cruel and unusual punishment) and 8 (privacy) of the ECHR. His opinion was highly critical of Scottish Executive decisions to spend money on combating drug trafficking and other measures when it had the choice to upgrade prisons to appropriate standards. The ruling was expected to lead to many damages claims by prisoners against the Scottish Executive.
The two youths found guilty of violating the sepulchre containing the mortal remains of inter alia Sir George Mackenzie (see No 337) were sentenced to three and two years’ probation respectively on 23 April 2004. In addition the older youth, who had the longer period of probation, was to carry out 200 hours’ unpaid community service. See 2004 GWD 13-286.
The 17-year old convicted killer James McCormick, whose mistaken release from custody by the private company Reliance just after it had taken over from the police prisoner court escort duties created a major political row for the Justice Minister (see No 350), was rearrested on 25 April 2004. The Minister made a parliamentary statement on 21 April, defending the privatisation of the service but severely criticising the performance of Reliance. Prisoners have continued to go missing since, but Reliance’s performance was placed in some perspective by former chief prisons inspector Clive Fairweather, who characterised the problem as minor, and also noted that as many as 50 people a year could be released in error under the old regime. He said: If I had 50p for every prisoner that was liberated in error by the Scottish Prison Service and the police when they were doing the job I think I’d be quite a rich man.
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.
The Scottish judge Lord Bonomy has been appointed to replace Judge Richard May at the trial before the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague of the former Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic. Ill-health forced Judge May to stand down two years into the trial in February 2004. The principle enunciated not quite a week ago by Andrew Marr of the BBC (see No 342) appears to have been applied once more. 7 April 2004.