Pubdate:  Thu, 31 Jul 1997
Source: The Scotsman, Edinburgh, UK (
Contact: McLeish accused of taking soft option over violent crime 

THE Government was accused of going soft on crime yesterday, 
after it decided not to insist on life sentences for repeat 
violent and sex offenders in Scotland. 

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, told the House of Commons 
yesterday that rapists, abusers and thugs will face a mandatory 
life term in England and Wales if they repeat their crimes. But 
in a parliamentary written answer, the Scottish Office home 
affairs minister, Henry McLeish, said that Scotland would not be 
following suit. 

Mr McLeish said that the Scottish legislation that enshrined the 
"two strikes and you're out" policy had been watered down in its 
final stages, leaving it to the trial judge to decide whether a 
life sentence was imposed. There had been no such watering down 
of the Crime (Sentences) Act for England. 

The news brought accusations from the Scottish Conservatives 
that Labour had eased up on crime. "In England, Jack Straw has 
embraced some of the tougher measures introduced by the last 
Conservative government, but Henry McLeish seems to have lost 
his bottle north of the Border," said Phil Gallie, the vice
chairman of the Scottish Tories. 

"The Scottish public demands firm sentences for violent and 
sexual offenders. There is really no excuse for Henry McLeish to 
water down law and order policy, when the Labour Party promised 
at the general election to be tough on crime." 

In reply, Mr McLeish said that he was still interested in 
protecting the public by stiffer penalties for violent and sex 
offenders, but had been advised that the Crime and Punishment 
(Scotland) Act would not have that effect. "I'm not in the 
business of conning anyone and pretending that something will 
deliver when manifestly it won't," he said. 

Mr McLeish used the parliamentary written answer to herald a 
range of other law and order initiatives for Scotland:

*Drug dealers convivted three times will face a minimum seven
year sentence, as in England and Wales, from 1 October.

*Reforms to cut the cost of Scotland's legal aid system and 
clamp down on legal aid 'milkers' will begin on 1 October .

*A pilot scheme will be set up to test whether electronic 
tagging is effective.

'Both the Secretary of State and I like the idea of electronic 
tagging as an alternative to custody in the last month or two of 
a sentence, where we could replace prison with a home curfew,' 
said Mr McLeish. 'There was a degree of scepticism at the start 
of the tagging experiments in England, but from the reports 
prepared since these, views have shifted considerably.'

Mr McLeish confirmed, as had been suspected, that Scotland will 
not go ahead with abolishing early release from prison, because 
Scottish jails are already too overcrowded already.

Menzies Campbell, QC, the Scottish Liberal Democrat legal 
affairs spokesman, was angry that the Scottish Office had made 
such an important announcement in the form of a written answer 
instead of a statement to the Commons, giving no opportunity for 
debate. "This behaviour simply underlines the need for a 
Scottish parliament, so that legislation affecting the Scottish 
legal system is not treated as if it were second class," he 

He said it was 'sensible' not to impose mandatory life sentences 
in Scotland, as sentencing should be left to judges, but he was 
critical of the idea of tagging. "Gimmicks of this kind are no 
substitute for wellfunded police forces and the availability of 
a proper range of disposals to the courts," said Mr Campbell. 
"As for early release from prison with a tag, if somebody is 
thought sufficiently rehabilitated to be released early then 
there is no need for that person to be tagged. 

"If this is a device to empty overcrowded prisons, then the 
Government would be far better employed ensuring that fine 
defaulters and women who haven't paid their television licence 
were not sent to prison." 

Alison Paterson, a spokeswoman for Victim Support Scotland, also 
praised the fact that the policy of "two strikes and you're out" 
had been laid aside. 

It might satisfy the public's desire for revenge, but it would 
have no effect whatsoever on the real and pressing wish of 
victims  to have their fears and suffering recognised and 
considered by the Scottish criminal justice system. 

She called for the victims' viewpoint to be included in 
consultations on the future of Scottish law and order. 

The SNP justice spokeswoman Roseanna Cunningham congratulated Mr 
McLeish for not giving in to the Tories' "macho posturing" on 
mandatory life sentences. "Henry McLeish has resisted the 
populist pull of these halfbaked measures," she said. "What is 
needed now is a flexible sentencing policy and a range of 
alternatives to prison, coupled with schemes for rehabilitation 
that actually work." 

The tagging pilot would have to be very carefully evaluated 
before it was extended across Scotland.