Extra funding could make ‘radical’ changes to justice system

Holyrood's Criminal Justice Committee want to 'break the cycle of long court delays and overcrowded prisons'.

Extra funding could make ‘radical’ changes to justice system iStock

Ministers are being urged to consider how additional cash for “radical” measures could be used to tackle longstanding issues in Scotland’s justice system.

MSPs on Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee have called on the Scottish Government to “explore additional funding that would be more radical”.

This, they say, would be more “likely to break the cycle of long court delays, overcrowded prisons and a high remand population”.

Spending on the justice sector totalled just over £3bn in the 2021-22 budget, with MSPs saying this was “one of the smaller areas of spend” compared to over £16.6bn for health and sport and almost £10bn for communities and local government.

In a report prepared ahead of the draft Scottish Budget on December 9, the committee said “further sustained increases in capital budgets” were needed for both Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to allow them to modernise their buildings and vehicles and IT.

They also called for a “sustained, above inflation injection of funds into the prison budget”, citing problems such as the high prison population, drug misuse in jails, the large number of untried prisoners and the presence of serious and organised crime groups.

The committee also said “targeted investments now” on projects such as recovery cafes and residential rehabilitation projects could help “deliver savings in the longer term”.

Speaking about the problems across the sector, the MSPs stated: “It is our view that the current budget challenges are a symptom of the wider problems in the justice sector that have not been significantly addressed over many years.

“Because these major challenges have not been tackled, we are now facing the need for even greater investment.

“We recognise that there has been progress on tackling certain issues in the justice sector over recent years, but more must be done to make rapid progress and resolve the systemic problems in the sector, many of which have been with us for a number of years.”

Meanwhile, with courts facing a backlog of cases that has built up during the Covid pandemic, the MSPs warned tackling this will have “a massive effect that will be felt right across the system”.

Their report noted: “The courts will be much busier, with greater demands placed on our judges, prosecutors, defence agents, victim support organisations, expert and police witnesses, social work, etc.

“Inevitably, a substantial proportion of those on trial will be sent to prison, placing greater demands on an already stretched prison service.”

Ministers were urged to look at existing budgets and see if “there is scope to use existing expenditure more effectively” by, for example, introducing innovative practices, alternatives to custody or making efficiency savings.

The committee added: “If some of the problems we have identified above continue, then the current budget levels will be insufficient and there is, therefore, a case for an overall increase in the budget for this sector.”

Speaking as the report was published, committee convener Audrey Nicoll said: “We believe that there is a case for further spending to support the justice system to meet the many challenges it is facing.

“However, we recognise that money is not unlimited and that some of the seemingly intractable issues faced by our courts, prisons and other justice partners will not be fixed simply by loosening the purse strings.

“We believe joined-up actions, achieving long-term goals such as reducing reoffending, could prove transformational. This would improve outcomes for society as well as the budget for the sector.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are grateful for the Criminal Justice Committee’s Pre-Budget Scrutiny Report, which will be carefully considered in relation to the ongoing budget discussions.”

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