The Scottish Liberal Democrats aren’t in Government at the moment. Despite that, the small Parliamentary group has had quite an impact in the past 3 years. Willie Rennie has had Salmond squirming at First Minister’s Questions over his associations with Rupert Murdoch and has been pivotal in securing extra funds for colleges, childcare and free school meals.
Back in January, it came to light that 500 children under 10 had been stopped and searched by Police in 2010. That’s bad enough. Last year that figure was just 88 short of 3000.
Scottish Liberal Democrat Justice spokesperson Alison McInnes was on this straight away and has been campaigning for change ever since, backed strongly by Willie Rennie. They’ve raised it at every opportunity in Parliament and devoted party of their single Opposition Day to condemning the Government’s position. The SNP Justice Secretary, “Clear Desk” Kenny MacAskill, who thinks everything is an operational matter for everyone else, has been utterly nonchalant on the issue. Any liberal in that position would be instinctively concerned at a system in which up to half a million Scots were subjected to unregulated Police searches, 2/3 of which yielded no result. Many of these are completely unregulated and have no statutory underpinning whatever. They rely on people, including children, consenting to being searched, but no proper records are kept in these circumstances. You have to wonder how an 8 year old is supposed to give informed consent.
Last month a Scottish Police Authority review of stop and search made a series of recommendations to better regulate the practice.
Yesterday, some progress was made when Police Scotland told a Holyrood Committee in response to a question from Alison McInnes that it was ending consensual stop and searches on under 12s. The BBC reports:
Police Scotland is to end the practice of consensual stop searches on children under the age of 12.
Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson made the announcement to a Holyrood committee. He also announced a pilot scheme in Fife in which the parents of all children subject to stop and search would be given a letter explaining why. There were 640,000 stop searches last year, with 25,000 involving children. The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is currently eight – one of the lowest in Europe. Mr Mawson’s comments to the Scottish parliament committee appeared to indicate that the change to stop search procedures would cover those under eight. Police Scotland later clarified that these searches would end for all children under 12.
Alison welcomed the move but signalled that this was just a start:
I am delighted that after months of pressing the authorities for change to protect children Police Scotland have finally conceded that the position was indefensible. This is a victory for children and their rights. We’ve argued all along for them to be protected. This acceptance of the problems of voluntary stop and search demonstrates change is required. That change cannot stop here.
Nor can further change be confined to this issue. Other issues that MacAskill is not bothered about include excessive use of solitary confinement on vulnerable prisoners and excessive use of armed and mounted police. It’s good that we have Alison McInnes to stand up for justice. She does more for justice and civil liberties as a member of a small Parliamentary group than the Justice Secretary in possession of a parliamentary majority.