MacAskill to target 'Mr Big' crime lords with new powers

GANG bosses and organised crime will be targeted by new legislation that is due to come into force in Scotland today.

The measures, contained in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, will see the creation of new offence categories which come with a statutory aggravation for offences connected with serious organised crime.

The legislation introduces the offences of involvement in, directing of, and failure to report serious organised crime.

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The new legislation comes into force on the same day that the Serious Organised Crime Taskforce is to meet in Edinburgh to discuss further action by law enforcement agencies to tackle the serious criminals and gangsters in Scotland's communities.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, who chairs the taskforce, said that legislation was vital in a "battle that Scotland can't afford to lose".

"Serious organised crime affects us all," he said. "It undermines legitimate business, damages our economic potential, and brings misery to individuals and communities through crime and addiction.

"This is a battle that Scotland cannot afford to lose. But by building on the progress made so far and with the expertise and commitment of those working in our criminal justice system I am confident that we can make life increasingly uncomfortable for the so-called 'Mr Bigs' and their cronies - including the so-called professionals who help the criminals evade justice."

Deputy Chief Constable Gordon Meldrum, of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and Director General of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, said: "These new offences will strengthen our ability to disrupt serious organised criminals, including those who have played a part in supporting these people and their networks."

Among some of the other changes are a new stalking offence, the provision of a framework for disclosure of evidence in trials and a crackdown on the owning of mobile phones by prisoners.

But leading human rights lawyer John Scott criticised the legislation, describing it as "a skip" containing too many measures, some of which will face serious opposition in the courts.

Mr Scott, criminal vice- president of the Society of Solicitor Advocates, said: "It probably is an example of how a bill shouldn't happen. It did become a skip.

"It is the most unwieldy piece of legislation that any committee of the Scottish Parliament has had to deal with. It included absolutely everything.

"It is not ideal, it's not how legislative process was supposed to work in Scotland. Change was required and we did need to do something, but it was probably better to take a bit longer and do it properly than running the risk of the inevitable court challenges at least some of which I anticipate will be successful."KEY ELEMENTS

Among the major parts of the new bill are:

• The creation of new serious organised crime offences.

• New offence relating to stalking.

• Raising the age at which a child can be prosecuted in adult criminal courts to 12.

• A crackdown on mobile phone ownership by prisoners.

• The presumption against short prison sentences of three months or less.

• A new framework for the disclosure of evidence to the defence in criminal cases.