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Strikers Target Courts & Jails

Strikers target Scotland's busiest courts and jails

Published on 26 January 2015

David Leask

SCOTLAND's busiest courts are braced for the latest in a series of rolling strikes.

Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh sheriff courts were among those expected to suffer most as the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) organised a walk-out today (Mon), their busiest day of the week.

The action - timed to coincide with hearings from custody for hundreds of people detained over the weekend - will also affect prisons, the Crown Office and Prosecutor Fiscal Service and other justice organisations.

Staff insiders believe some cases will have to be adjourned and juries sent home because paperwork cannot be processed or prisoners transferred.

The action comes as smaller courts across Scotland are closed in a major cost-cutting exercise that current Justice Secretary Michael Matheson inherited from his predecessor Kenny MacAskill.

Officials hope the consolidation will save money and boost efficiency.

Lynn Henderson, PCS Scottish Secretary, however, said change was putting huge strain on workers.

She said "Ours members are dedicated to delivering fair justice and high quality services to the people of Scotland, at times under very difficult circumstances for very little reward.

"The new Justice Secretary should use any whatever influence he has to feed back into Cabinet discussions on the budget that civil and public servants can no longer put up with job cuts and re-organisations and carry the impact of austerity cuts in their pockets with pay freezes and pay restraint."

Courts in at Haddington in East Lothian; Peebles and Duns in the Borders; and Dingwall in the Highlands are scheduled to close this week.

There are also substantial changes being made in the prison service.

Monday's strikes are part of a rolling programme by PCS members throughout devolved administration. The union has rejected a 1% cap on pay rises after what it calls a "relentless increase in workloads" as staff who leave are not replaces.

The PCS said the strike would affect the staff at sheriff courts in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Hamilton, Greenock and Edinburgh; and the Supreme Courts in Edinburgh. Fully 173 criminal cases are scheduled to call on Monday at Glasgow Sheriff Court alone.

The High Court in Glasgow, where a man accused of raping a toddler at an Inverness-shire nursery is due to appear, is not one of the courts targeted.

The PCS said the strike had also been called at the Crown Office HQs in Edinburgh and Glasgow; the fiscals' office at Edinburgh Sheriff Court; Shotts, Barlinnie, Low Moss and Glenochill prisons; Polmont Young Offenders Institution; and the Risk Management Authority.

A union source said: "We expect the strike to be solid."

The Scottish Courts Service has warned of potential disruption but stressed it did not know how badly it would be affected.
Iain McKie

In March 2014 I responded to the Justice Committee call for evidence on the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill. This is an extract from my paper.

It is a central principle of change management that it is essential before change is recommended or implemented that the current overall health and efficiency of the organisation is determined and that the direct and indirect effect of the proposed changes are assessed. Change introduced into an already struggling organisation can only serve to further destabilise it, lower the efficiency and morale of those working within it and undermine the potentially valuable intended reforms.
The knock on effect of change which hasn’t been thought through can be seen in the current furore over the Government plans to abolish corroboration. In a rush to implement change the direct and indirect effects were not assessed and the Government is left trying to patch in ‘solutions’ when this should have been done before rushing to print. As we have dramatically seen ill thought out change is destabilising and ultimately negative.......

Unfortunately in respect of our justice system (civil and criminal) examples of such ill thought out change are abundant. From ‘Cadder’ through to legal aid changes, court closures and corroboration the term ‘knee jerk reaction’ can fairly be applied. I would argue that in developing the recommendations contained in the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill exactly the same mistakes have been made

I would argue that the Justice Committee instead of going down the road of asking the Government to provide the usual statistical indicators of workload and efficiency (although they to might be valuable) should consider requesting the following statistics.

i. To what extent has unrealistic plea bargaining led to the pen being put through hundreds of cases?
ii. To what extent are Fiscal fines being used inappropriately?
iii. Are court waiting times being manipulated by calling cases and then adjourning them in a similar way to the NHS waiting times scandal?
iv. To what extent are witnesses and jurors turning up at court only to be sent home because some aspect of their case is not ready?
v. How often is information previously in the hands of court officials and which would allow witnesses to be countermanded not being passed on until the witnesses are in court?
vi. How often is Ineffective precognition of witnesses leading to their turning up at court unable or unwilling to give reliable evidence or speak to the testimony already passed onto the police or procurator fiscal?
vii. To what extent are unrealistic pleas are being accepted to save court time?
viii. What % of police and other witnesses’ time in court is actually spent giving evidence?

Effectively case management and court administration is often an embarrassing shambles which affects victims, accused, lawyers, judges, witnesses and all working within the system. It makes mockery of the procedures to ensure that vulnerable witnesses are protected and that victims of domestic and sexual abuse are dealt with speedily and with compassion. I suspect that it is these issues more than those identified in the Bill that are the root cause of excessive delay and cost and unless they are tackled first the Bill’s aims will not be realised.

Needless to say no account was taken of my observations and the 'shambles' that is some Sheriff Courts continues.

'When will they ever learn?'
Iain McKie

From my letter published in today's Herald.
'I called for a comprehensive analysis and assessment of the current efficiency of court administration and the workload implications before any change was implemented.

Needless to say political spin and vested interests won out over logic and as a result we are faced with a court system that is descending into chaos and a Courts Service in denial, with its collective head stuck firmly in the rapidly shifting sands.

While the Herald content is subject to registration  this is relatively easy and well worthwhile given its coverage of justice matters. Forum Index -> Test Forum 1
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Sincere thanks to all those who have supported Shirley and challenged miscarriages of justice on this forum.