SNP party conference: Police officers seeking to retire early asked to 'think twice', says Keith Brown

Police officers seeking to retire early in Scotland are being asked to "think twice", the justice secretary has said, amid concerns over an exodus of experienced staff.

Keith Brown said there were examples of personnel who had taken early retirement and then regretted it.

David Page, deputy chief officer of Police Scotland, previously warned the force had seen a "sharp rise" in the number of officers eligible to leave due to pension changes.

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It came as Mr Brown warned the current budgetary pressures are the worst he can remember in his time as a politician.

Justice Secretary Keith Brown. Picture: John DevlinJustice Secretary Keith Brown. Picture: John Devlin
Justice Secretary Keith Brown. Picture: John Devlin

However, he urged critics of the Scottish Government’s spending plans to “reserve judgement” until the draft Budget is published in December.

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Recent data indicated 1,137 officers will leave Police Scotland this year, with 718 of those boasting between 25 and 29 years' service.

Pension changes – known as the McCloud remedy – mean officers over 50 can retire after 25 years' service instead of 30 without a financial penalty.

Of those who left the force between October 2021 and March this year, 87 per cent said they were retiring.

Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Mr Brown said: "They [Police Scotland] have had experience in the past of people who have taken early retirement and then regretted having done so.

"So they are doing some work to make sure that those that are thinking about retirement think twice.

"Some people leave and perhaps the standard of living they enjoyed while fully employed, they can't maintain, or they miss the job and want to come back.

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"So they are talking to people, counselling them as they go through this.

"But the pension changes are not peculiar to Scotland. They're not even peculiar to the police.

"So they have to deal with that, that is true to say."

Mr Brown said he did not deny there were “huge pressures” facing the justice sector.

He spoke to The Scotsman while visiting a new “evidence by commission” suite in Edinburgh, the third of its kind in Scotland.

The facilities enable vulnerable witnesses, including children, to give evidence in criminal cases without the emotional challenges that can occur when giving evidence at trial.

Sites in Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh have been opened following a £2 million investment by the Scottish Government in IT and venue facilities across the High Court estate.

Mr Brown said the suites “can take away what can be quite an intimidating and traumatic environment for the witnesses”.

Elsewhere, he addressed concerns over the Scottish Government’s longer-term spending plans.

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The Law Society of Scotland has warned the resource spending review, which sets out the Government’s broad plans over coming years, amounts to a real-terms cut of at least 20 per cent to Scotland’s justice sector by 2027 – a move it said “risks disaster”.

Asked about this, Mr Brown pointed to UK Government budget cuts and spiralling inflation, as well as the additional pressure caused by public sector pay deals.

He said: "I'm not denying there are pressures, but we've not set the budget yet for the justice portfolio and it's my job to make sure we get as good a deal as possible."

Pushed on whether it was better to just be honest with people about the cuts ahead, he said: "I'm being honest. I'm not saying this is an easy budget round.

"It's the worst I can remember. I've been 26 years now as an elected official – I've never known it as bad as this.

"I'm not saying it's not a difficult situation, but we've not set the budget yet and I think people should reserve judgement till that happens."

Courts across Scotland continue to struggle with a backlog of cases built up during the pandemic.

Figures from August show the average time between pleading diet and trial is 49 weeks for the High Court, compared to 22 weeks before Covid.

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Sheriff courts and Justice of the Peace cases show similar delays.

Mr Brown said efforts to clear the backlog remain "substantially on track" and insisted "remarkable progress" had been made.

The Law Society has also raised concerns about plans to abolish Scotland’s controversial not proven verdict.

It warned the move risks an increase in miscarriages of justice and “must be done with the upmost care and consideration for the wider implications”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the “truly historic” plans as she set out her legislative programme for the coming parliamentary year last month.

Mr Brown said: "I do agree abolishing not proven is the right thing to do.

"If you have a situation where a judge or a sheriff cannot even explain to a jury or other people involved in the process what the effect of not proven is, how it's distinct from not guilty, then I think that's wrong.

"I think people have to understand the system they are involved in.

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"What I have listened to very carefully are the concerns of the Law Society.

"So they want to see if there are other consequential changes, or changes which accompany that change, for example, the size of a jury or the majority required for conviction.

"And I've listened to that, and we'll make our views known on those issues as the Bill comes forward."

Mr Brown, who is the SNP’s depute leader, will open the party’s conference in Aberdeen today.

He is later due to appear at a fringe event with the Scottish Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers.



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