Scotland's drug death crisis: 'Very careful' planning needed for safe consumption rooms
Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC stressed that any plans for such a facility would have to be “precise, detailed, specific and underpinned by evidence” before this could happen.
However, she said that given Scotland’s “undoubted crisis” in terms of drug-related deaths – with a record 1,339 fatalities recorded in 2020 – the question of “if it is in the public interest that there should be no prosecutions for those using drugs consumption facilities” could come in for “fresh consideration by me as Lord Advocate”.
Ms Bain, who was giving evidence to MSPs on Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee, recalled that back in 2017 the then Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC had refused to back plans to set up such a facility in Glasgow.
Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership had wanted to set up a consumption room, but had asked if such a move could result in them being prosecuted.
Ms Bain said her predecessor had considered the issue “very carefully”, but added that “in relation to what was asked of him in terms of prosecution he concluded it wasn’t possible to grant the request”.
The current Lord Advocate told MSPs: “The potential offences which may be committed in any consumption facility will depend on the individual scheme envisaged, the policies and processes within the individual scheme, and the actual behaviour of both the operators and the users.
“So the Lord Advocate couldn’t as a matter of law, whether through policy or otherwise, decriminalise conduct which was by law criminal, nor could immunity from prosecution be granted in advance.”
However, she continued: “If indeed there is a proposal that is made for a drug consumption facility that is precise, detailed, specific and underpinned by evidence, and supported by those that would be responsible for policing such a facility and Police Scotland, and there is careful consideration of how these consumption rooms would impact on communities.
“If that sort of planned use of drug consumption rooms is brought to the Lord Advocate as a very well set-out proposal, then in terms of the undoubted crisis we face in terms of the number of drugs deaths we face in Scotland, if it is in the public interest that there should be no prosecutions for those using drugs consumption facilities with all these safeguards that require to be in place, that would require fresh consideration by me as Lord Advocate.”
The Lord Advocate stated: “The question of what is in the public interest is something that could be looked at again, but would have to be looked at again in very careful circumstances where a very detailed set of proposals are brought and we are confident that they are based on sound evidence.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “It is time to push those limits, break the legal impasse and stop people dying.
“Drug consumption rooms offer a practical way to save lives and are supported by an overwhelming body of international medical evidence.
“Scotland’s drug death crisis has been raging for far too long. Every measure needs to be on the table to bring it to a close and it is time to press ahead with these facilities.”
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