Scrap the Act

Today my colleague James Kelly MSP launched a consultation into scrapping the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act with the intention of introducing a private members’ bill.

The act, the first in Holyrood to be passed without any cross-party support, has been controversial since its inception and was opposed by clubs, fans, legal experts and academics.

While we can all share the frustration at the progress made in eradicating sectarianism  in Scotland, these problems cannot be fixed in 90 minutes at a game of football.  We must see greater effort to tackle sectarianism in our schools and communities, and address the root causes of these attitudes and behaviours.

The consultation is now open and I would encourage everyone to take part.   You can read the consultation documents and submit a response here:

FRAE Fife Conference

I was delighted to be invited to FRAE Fife’s conference on Equalities and Citizenship in the current international, national and local context to give a keynote speech.

The conference, which took place in in the Old Kirk in Kirkcaldy, was well attended and informative and included speeches from politicians, lecturers and leading campaigners from across Scotland.

The event was an opportunity to discuss the impact of international and national events on Fife along with the approach of the UK and Scottish Governments to the implementation of equality policies.

I was pleased to be able to discuss the work I have done in the Scottish Parliament on the ongoing refugee crisis, the case of Sheku Bayoh’s death in police custody and the contribution people from around the world make to Scottish society.

I’d like to thank FRAE Fife for the opportunity to attend and speak at the conference. I hope that it will kick start a positive debate locally on how we ensure fairness, race awareness and equality in Fife.

Sheku’s family meet Pirc

Yesterday I called for a review into deaths in police custody following the death of Sheku Bayoh. At around about the same time Sheku’s family were meeting with Pirc to discuss their investigation.

I’m delighted to see that Pirc have offered the family the opportunity to choose additional experts to be consulted in the course of the investigation. This is a positive step forward.

It is important that everyone is confident in the outcome of the investigation.

You can read the full story here.

Claire meets with Minister over quad bike campaign

I have continued my campaign against anti-social behaviour on motorised scooters and quad bikes by meeting the Scottish Government to raise concerns. The meeting followed questions I raised in the Scottish Parliament and a visit to a local farmer to see the damage caused to his farm by the inappropriate use of such bikes.

I have been campaigning on the issue following a number of constituents getting in touch to highlight the inappropriate use of the vehicles in their area, particularly around Methil, Wemyss villages and Kirkcaldy.

The complaints I have received includes the riding and racing of the bikes and scooters on pavements, streets and fields. I raised the issues with the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs during General Questions shortly before Christmas and met with the Minister in the Scottish Parliament. Continue reading

Claire raises antisocial behaviour in Fife

Yesterday I raised concerns over antisocial behaviour with quad bikes in Fife following fears raised by constituents. I raised the issue with the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs during General Questions in the Scottish Parliament.

I called for the Government to look at strengthening fixed penalty notices to give the police more ‘tools in their box’ to deal with problems around quad bike usage. I raised the issue following concerns that anti-social behaviour on quad bikes was taking place in Fife with the bikes being used on pavements and streets.

I have seen an increase recently in the number of people contacting me about the issue of quad bikes and antisocial behaviour. This is not just an issue for rural Scotland but is becoming an issue and nuisance on the streets and pavements of Fife. Continue reading

Claire writes to Justice Secretary as crime in Fife rises

Today I have written to the Scottish Government to call on them to tackle Fife’s rising crime rates after the release of the latest official Recorded Crime Statistics has shown a 6% increase in reported crime in Fife. 

These statistics highlight the unacceptable increase in crime in Fife, despite the level in Scotland reaching a 40 year low. We must now look beyond these figures and ask why this rise in Fife has taken place.

The increase in reported crime follows on from concerns I raised last year regarding the restructuring of police services in Fife after it was announced that the number of chief inspectors throughout Fife was being more than halved, down from seven to three.

With the advent of Police Scotland concerns were raised over the future of local policing and the ability for the new force to respond to local concerns. Questions must now be asked of the new Justice Secretary if the current structure and planning has negatively impacted on local policing, particularly in Fife. Continue reading

Raptor deaths

Following the shocking and unacceptable deaths of the raptors in Ross-shire I have written to the Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse. The raptor deaths are the latest in a long line of attacks on our iconic wildlife.

The Scottish Government are consulting on greater powers for SSPCA officers which Scottish Labour support however we believe the Government should be going further. I am calling on the Scottish Government to review wildlife crime legislation in Scotland and vicarious liability.

A copy of my letter to the Minister can be found below. Continue reading

Court System is heading for Gridlock

This week the Scottish Government has been warned by 
 the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland that the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill will lead to a backlog in the system. I share these fears and believe that with the current closures due to still take place the court service is in danger of heading to a ‘gridlock’.

The bill will see cases where damages of less than £150,000 heard by new summary sheriffs rather than the Court of Session and cases would be held at sheriff courts across Scotland despite the Scottish Government’s recent decision to close 10 local sheriff courts. Locally the changes will see the closure of Cupar Sheriff Court with trials moving to Dundee and jury trials no longer taking place in Kirkcaldy, with trials moving to Dunfermline.

The move of all jury trials from Kirkcaldy would see an increase in jury trials by 283% at Dunfermline Sheriff Court. There are fears that the number of trials at Dunfermline would also increase with the passing of the Court Reform Bill leading to concerns about delays.

Continue reading

Claire calls for court closures rethink in Holyrood debate

Today I called for the Scottish Government to reconsider their support for court closures across Scotland, including Cupar Sheriff Court, during Scottish Labour Party Business in Holyrood. Todays debate will be the only opportunity to discuss the closures in Parliament out with the Justice Committee and it was important to highlight the Scottish Government’s decisions to accept all the recommendations from Shaping Scotland’s Court Service without proper scrutiny. 

The paper, published this month by the Scottish Court Service, recommends the closure of courts across Scotland, including Cupar Sheriff Court in Fife due to its proximity to Dundee. Other courts affected by the recommendations include Dingwall, Arbroath, Stonehaven and Haddington. Continue reading

Claire hits out at ‘flawed’ court proposals

I have raised in Parliament my concerns to the Justice Secretary after the Scottish Court Service outlined moves to end jury trials at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court over the next 10 years. This will take place without Parliamentary approval, with all jury trials that would have been heard at Kirkcaldy moving to Dunfermline.

The proposal also highlights plans to close Cupar Sheriff Court due to its proximity to Dundee Sheriff Court. This is subject to Parliamentary approval and if approved this change will take place in May 2014.

The move of jury trials to Dunfermline is despite the Kirkcaldy court being the busier of the two courts and the consultation recognising the ‘strength of comments made to us that Kirkcaldy would be more appropriate location for a Sheriff and jury centre serving East Fife.”

I highlighted these changes and my concerns in a question to Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill during Topical Questions. I asked the Cabinet Secretary what meetings he had with the Scottish Court Service on these proposals and if he shares concerns that this change will have a negative impact on witnesses and victims.

In his reply the Cabinet Secretary claimed there should be ‘greater trust and faith’ given to the Scottish Court Service and the Lord President.

However, statistics released to me has shown that in the past year almost three times as many jury trials took place in Kirkcaldy compared to Dunfermline, with the court also sitting for almost twice as many days and had almost double the indictments.

If these statistics remain consistent this would mean an increase in jury trials at Dunfermline Sheriff Court by 283%, with an increase in the number of days it sits by 172%. This has led to real fears of delays as a result of the changes proposed.

The decision to close Cupar Sheriff Court is despite concerns raised by increased travel distance and cost for court users.

The Scottish Court Service admitted that the closure of Cupar Sheriff Court “will result in additional travel distance, time and cost to some court users in travelling to Dundee…we recognise that for some travel may be more difficult because of limited public transport options.”

Recently it has also been announced that the Scottish Government have taken the decision to end Fife’s Drugs Court initiative at the close of the financial year 2013/14. The court had been running as a pilot project, in partnership with Fife Council, NHS Fife, Fife Police and the Scottish Court Service, since 2002.

I visited both Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline Sheriff Courts during the Consultation period before submitting my own response outlining why both courts should remain accessible to jury trials and why Cupar Sheriff Court should remain open.

I have also continually raised my concerns in the Scottish Parliament that local and rural courts may be closed due to Scottish Government cuts and I have met with local groups including local Kirkcaldy solicitors to hear their concerns over the potential changes to courts in the Kingdom.

The people of Fife deserve justice to be delivered locally and in a meaningful way. There are real concerns that moving jury trials out of Kirkcaldy and closing Cupar Sheriff Court will lead to an increase in trials delayed.

Going to court can be an extremely emotional time and lives can essentially be on hold until they see an end to the case. The Scottish Government should be making the process easier, not harder, for all involved but by stopping jury trials in Kirkcaldy and closing Cupar they will be penalising the victims and the innocent.

The views of solicitors and the general public have been ignored as these flawed proposals regarding Kirkcaldy are set to be pushed through.

It is not about blindly trusting the SCS and Lord President but about ensuring the best justice system is in place and there will be no unintended consequences that will adversely affect the Kingdom.

The decision by the Scottish Court Service, coupled with the extremely disappointing decision by the Scottish Government to stop funding the Drugs Court may lead to significant gaps in the provision of dealing with justice issues across the Kingdom.

These decisions will only add further strain to the local justice system. Stopping jury trials in Kirkcaldy will put increased pressures on the justice services in Fife and it will be the victims who lose out. I will continue to raise this matter in the Scottish Parliament.