Scottish prisoners may be released early under emergency laws

The release of prisoners from Scots jails and introduction of judge-only trials, dispensing with juries, are among the measures which have been unveiled in emergency Scots Coronavirus laws.

The legislation will also bar evictions of tenants from their homes during the pandemic and is expected to be passed at Holyrood tomorrow.

Constitution Secretary Michael Russell today said the measures in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill won't be in place any longer than necessary.

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"The Bill has quite a number of provisions in it," Mr Russell said during Scottish Government's daily Coronavirus update in Edinburgh.

Prisoners may be released from sentences early

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Emergency COVID19 laws to halt evictions and secure justice system are unveiled

"For many people the provision that means there's no possibility of people not being evicted for not paying rent is central to the Bill. People require to be safe in their homes.

“The bill also deals with a range of issues in the criminal justice system where it absolutely essential that we have the provisions necessary to continue the administration of justice.

"And the Bill tackles some relatively small but important issues where we have to ensure that the business of Government continues even if people cannot meet and cannot meet together to do certain things."

It is expected that the emergency legislation will be passed at all three stages in a single day at Holyrood tomorrow.

Further emergency legislation is likely to be published in the coming weeks, Mr Russell added. The emergency legislation is renewable only twice at six monthly intervals, but Mr Russell said today this will not happen unless it is needed.

"We want to make sure they are no longer in place just at the moment they are not needed - they are needed now," he added.

The measures will include a new power to allow for judge-only trials in the most serious cases like murder and homicide.

A power to release some prisoners will also be included.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she does not have concerns that criminal trials taking place without juries will lead to miscarriages of justice and insisted that power to release prisoners early will only be used as a last resort.

Constitution minister Michael Russell says prison governors will not release anyone who poses an immediate risk, with those convicted of sexual offences among the category of prisoner who will not be freed.

He insisted there are strong “safeguards” and the power can't be used without regulations.

"The power has to be there in case it is needed," he added.

There will also be other adjustments to criminal procedure, family law and civil justice to allow many hearings to take place remotely.

Across the public sector, there are changes to the deadlines involved in planning and local authority licensing to reflect the fact that much of that business has been suspended and construction slowed due to the impact of COVID-19. Public bodies will also be allowed to simplify the ways in which they report their activities, including publishing information online for a temporary period.

To protect private and social sector tenants from eviction, the minimum notice period for tenants is being increased to up to six months giving people peace of mind that their accommodation is secure.


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