IT would appear that Kenny MacAskill’s controversial tenure as Scottish justice minister is being picked apart. Despite being defended in the role by party leaders, it now appears that there is a general agreement within the Scottish Government that much of what he did cannot be allowed to stand.
Almost the first action of Michael Matheson was to scrap £75 million plans for a new women’s jail in Inverclyde that had been approved by Mr MacAskill as a replacement for Scotland’s women-only prison, Cornton Vale in Stirling. The plan ran counter to recommendations by former Lord Advocate Dame Eilish Angiolini that female offending should be tackled with small regional units.
Now Mr MacAskill’s proposals to abolish a cornerstone of Scottish justice, the requirement for corroboration in criminal cases, are to be dropped from the Criminal Justice Bill by the Scottish government. This must be humiliating for Mr MacAskill but his successor should be congratulated on finally coming round to the commonsense view.
While it is true that something must be done to improve conviction rates for rape and other sexual offences in Scottish courts, the recent changes to the laws and formation of specialist teams are having an effect that will only increase, and the abolition of corroboration was a reform that overall was bound to have a deleterious effect on Scottish justice.
In fact one of the most surprising aspects of the whole issue is just how long it took the government to realise there was something seriously flawed in its proposals. While the reform had the backing of Police Scotland and prosecutors, there was united opposition from the legal profession over fears of miscarriages of justice.
It was only by appointing the review by Lord Bonomy, who said corroboration should still apply to evidence obtained by hearsay and confession, that the government has managed to place a political fig leaf over its embarrassment over the matter.
Presumably Mr Matheson’s statement that there was still a case for abolishing corroboration and his desire that that should be considered as part of a wider review after the 2016 Holyrood election were simply more political face-saving and the grass into which the issue has been kicked is so long as to be almost certain to prevent its retrieval.
MacAskill must surely also take some of the blame for the damage to the reputation of Scottish policing after the structure of Police Scotland has left a lot to be desired when it comes to accountability to the public.
It only remains to be seen now whether Mr MacAskill’s most controversial move – the release of Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi from prison on compassionate grounds after serving just eight years – will also be accepted as the wrong decision.
Future is impossible to predict
The tragic death of Mikaeel Kular touched many people in Scotland. The response of the public to the reports of his disappearance was a credit to the country and it is only natural there was a huge interest in his story. Many people felt a sense of loss, but for his father that must have been devastating, and it is in many ways understandable that Zahid Saeed feels the authorities let down his son and his family.
Mikaeel had been in foster care and the decision was then taken to return him to his mother Rosdeep Adekoya’s care just months before she killed him. There must always be room for a little regret and unease when a full report is not published, as in this case, but the reasons for that are quite compelling. There can be little doubt that the independent case review by Moira McKinnon was thorough and fair.
To outsiders it might seem a strange decision to hand back a child to his mother after she had previously found herself unable to cope with the demands motherhood placed upon her, but people change and it must be the priority of social services to give a child to its natural mother unless there are good reasons to believe this might be dangerous.
But his mother’s ability to physically care for the three-year-old was never in question. There was plenty of contact between agencies and the family.
The decision was taken by a range of professionals who agreed that he was well looked after, and the decision to return him was endorsed by a Children’s Hearing.
It is sad, especially when it comes to the death of child, but not every action can be predicted, and not every eventuality can be reasonably foreseen.