Statement on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill

On 2nd April, Statement on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill by Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) Chair, Richard Haley.

The bill gives the Scottish Government the power to order the early release of many prisoners. Prisoners convicted of the most serious offences are excluded and there are other, odder exclusions. One of the exclusions is for remand prisoners. Humza Yousaf told the Parliament:

“However, prisoners on remand are different from other prisoners who are in our care, because remand prisoners are there as a result of a court-mandated decision on bail. It would not be right to go above the courts in that regard. The judiciary has a long-standing and established role in determining whether a person who is accused of a criminal offence should be bailed or remanded.”

They are also different because they entitled to be presumed innocent. It would be paradoxical if they were to be last in line for release. The judiciary and lawyers with clients on remand need to address the issue urgently.

The Julian Assange Clause

Another exclusion is for prisoners in custody under the Extradition Act 2003. This might be called the Julian Assange clause. The only plausible reason for it is to avoid embarrassing Westminster, who need a similar clause in order to keep Julian Assange behind bars.

Any regulations for the release of prisoners under the new legislation have to be approved by the Scottish Parliament unless they relate to prisoners due for release in no more than 180 days, or there is an urgent necessity for release. The Parliament is now in recess. The situation is urgent. Scotland’s prisons are inevitably becoming death traps. They will also become powder-kegs as prisoners respond to this fact and to the deterioraion in their conditions that will inevitably result from staff shortages. The Scottish Government must use its new powers to reduce the prison population radically and rapidly.

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