If Carlsberg made Sheriffs, they would be like David Mackie, while Fiona Duncan, chair of the Independent Care Review, is “chippy, sarcastic and incredibly smart”, writes Karyn McCluskey.
In this time of great turmoil, and to counter all the people tearing each other down on social media and in our newspapers, let me sow a little hope. Let me tell you about two extraordinary Scots who make a difference. I would like you to know about them.
The first is Sheriff David Mackie, who’s leaving Alloa after many years on the bench. A giant of a man – physically and spiritually. I encountered him in 2005, and was struck by his warmth, generosity of spirit and absolute desire to understand those who enter his court. He has practised problem-solving justice in Alloa since 2002 and he retires in the next six weeks.
He held a lecture in Alloa last Tuesday. Over 150 people attended – people he’d sentenced, people who worked in the court every day – and all came to tell him how much he meant to them and to thank him. He talked about how recovery never happens in a straight line, and that connection and engagement through review hearings with the person being sentenced are the key to success. His ability to communicate, the dignity and respect he affords to all, and his humanity maketh the man.
He said: “The justice system has a way of sucking people in and not letting them go.” He added: “I sometimes think that I’m a prisoner of the same justice system and I too find it difficult to get out.” He talked about the hard decisions he has to make, the Hobson’s choice about the least bad option. He now has time to do voluntary work that he loves. There are many amazing Sheriffs out there, but I will miss David Mackie. If Carlsberg made Sheriffs...
My second person is a wonderful and relatively unsung woman, who navigates dangerous waters with grace, integrity and a wicked sense of humour. My former colleague John Carnochan called me up to say: “You have to meet this woman, she’s chippy, sarcastic, incredibly smart and has a real way with words – you’ll love her”. And I did – and do.
Fiona Duncan was appointed chair of the Independent Care Review in 2017. Long overdue, much needed and carrying a huge weight of expectation and hope, the challenge wasn’t one for the faint-hearted. The obstacles are many; silo-ed practice, bureaucracy, barriers, stigma and the impact of a failing system was – and is – being carried by so many, and often for the whole of their lives.
From the outset, Fiona has been fiercely protective of the review; not just of its independence but also of its authenticity. She’s approached the project with a laser focus on real, meaningful change, which she believes will only be delivered if the lifeblood running through the review is the voice of care experience.
She has not only engaged with thousands of people across Scotland with experience of the care system, but has actively recruited many people to the review who have care-experience backgrounds – over half of the group overseeing the work. She’s driven by her desire to include, consult, represent and amplify the voice of those who will be most affected by the review.
And yet, despite this important and difficult job, Fiona is quick to laugh and her “colourful” approach to language belies her angelic appearance.
But she is never flippant, she takes her work seriously. She has skin in the game. Soon she will have to show us where we’ve failed children and parents. It will be painful and require much soul searching. She must encourage us to change, show us the path. It will be hard. The most important work is never easy – but we always need good people to do it.
Karyn McCluskey is chief executive of Community Justice Scotland.