Jenny Marra  : Community Justice System ( Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate )

2 May 2013

I reiterate what other members have said about the timing of today’s debate.

Two days after the closure of the consultation is perhaps a little too soon to debate the redesign of the community justice system properly, because expert opinion on the matter is crucial.

Under any restructuring of the system, the difference will be made by those who deliver services in our communities—those who work day in, day out with some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Those people who do the work know how to get the results, so it is important that we inform ourselves of their opinions.

If we are to transform lives, to drive down the cost of reoffending and to avoid incarceration rates growing in the way that has been predicted, we must build a system that is more integrated than ever before with health, social work and education systems, not least in our poorest communities.

The economic and social cost of reoffending cannot be overestimated, nor can it be teased apart from the wider social problems that are faced in our most deprived areas.

It is not coincidence that 40 per cent of prisoners come from the very poorest communities of Scotland.

We can be in no doubt that the staggering £3 billion cost of reoffending will affect those areas the most.

To tackle reoffending is to build a system that creates not just meaningful second chances, but meaningful first chances.

To ask how we tackle reoffending is to ask why the first person whom a released prisoner meets outside the prison gates is the same drug dealer who helped them end up in jail in the first place.

To ask how we tackle reoffending is also to ask how we overcome childhoods that have been blighted by the trauma of neglect, abuse and substance misuse; how we build an education system that empowers every child with the ability to learn not just the facts of the world around them, but how they can shape their own world; and how we build a health service that not only treats illness and addiction but teaches us how to make healthy choices.

That is the scale of the challenge that we face, and it is Labour’s starting point in this debate.

We need change that is expert led, integrated and driven by innovation in every aspect of our public services.

So, when we are asked to debate the restructuring of the community justice authorities without the benefit of the evidence, we are not satisfied that that is the best approach, and neither are the CJAs themselves.

As Mary Fee says, there is disquiet among the community justice authorities about the timing of this debate. In response to the Government’s motion, on which we will vote at decision time today, Howard Llewellyn, the chief officer of Tayside community justice authority, says:

“It does not seem unreasonable to infer from the absence of an expressed commitment in the motion by the Cab Sec to continue to work with CJAs as well as the other partners referred to that there is no intention to do so and that therefore the CJAs are ‘dead’.”

Kenny MacAskill: Did the member not listen when we said quite clearly that the proposal—whether it is A, B or C—would not come into effect until the spring of 2016? Given that that is the case, CJAs will need to continue operating until then. To suggest that they are dead when we are only in the spring of 2013 is, frankly, fanciful.

Jenny Marra: Fanciful or not, those are not my words but the words of a leader of a community justice authority, and they are a response to the cabinet secretary’s motion.

Mr Llewellyn continues, making a pertinent point about the timing of the debate:

“This is an extremely disappointing message especially so soon after the closure of the consultation process upon which so much effort has been spent by those of us who believed the Cab Sec’s and his officials’ assurances that no assumptions had been made and who believe in the potential for CJAs to rise to the challenge if enhanced appropriately.”

It is important that, as Lewis Macdonald said, we debate the issue again once we have all had a chance to digest the consultation responses.

Christine Grahame: I spoke about enhanced and expanded CJAs with oversight at a national level. I wish that Jenny Marra would refer to my D option, because I think that it could be the solution. I certainly did not say that I wanted to get rid of CJAs.

Jenny Marra: I am reading the response of the leader of a community justice authority.

I very much appreciated Christine Grahame’s speech, in which she outlined a number of options.

As Labour has outlined today, we need to see the evidence first before we explore any of the options and come to any decision on what option we should choose.

The options raise a number of questions.

If we opt for a local authority model, how can we be sure that funding will be targeted to the areas that need it most?

I raised that issue with the cabinet secretary in my intervention during his opening speech.

How can we ensure, under that model, that innovative programs are shared between local authorities?  

How can we ensure that they will be sustained under a funding arrangement that is devolved to local authorities when, currently, 83 per cent of cuts are at a local authority level?

The cabinet secretary assured me that he would answer all those questions.

If the Government’s preference is to centralise the system, which is implied in the motion, how can we ensure that central control does not stifle local expertise?


I hear qualms being expressed on the SNP benches, but those are all legitimate questions.

How do we make community justice authorities integrate better with the local health practitioners, alcohol and drug partnerships and social work services when their jurisdictions are all different?

That point was very well made in Rod Campbell’s speech.

He highlighted the implications of the Government’s wider programme of justice reform and the effect that the proposed closure of Cupar sheriff court will have on integrated services to reduce reoffending, as cases from north-east Fife will be heard in Dundee, which is outwith the local CJA area, the health board area and the local authority area.

The Government must consider these reforms in the round.

Labour raised that point in the courts debate last week and we emphasise it again today.

Malcolm Chisholm and Annabel Goldie reminded us that we have had this debate before, when the CJAs were set up.

Perhaps the challenge that we face again with the options in the consultation is in striking a balance between council and Government control and where the power lies.

Kenny MacAskill: On the specific matter of Cupar sheriff court, it may interest the member to know that, when I met David O’Neill of COSLA and I mentioned the proposed closures, he made the point that, as the leader not only of COSLA but of North Ayrshire Council, he has no court in his council area but people there cope quite well and do not miss having a sheriff court.

Does Jenny Marra disagree with David O’Neill?


Jenny Marra: That is beside the point. Lucky him if the court reforms do not affect his area.

The point that Rod Campbell was making is that court cases will be heard in a jurisdiction outwith the control of the local health service, the local authority and local social services.

That does not make sense if we are trying to improve community justice.

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s invitation to discuss the matter outwith the chamber.

We very much look forward to that meeting after we have all had a chance to digest the consultation’s findings.

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