Covering court for the paper is always interesting and, in my humble opinion, a crucial component for local and regional titles in ensuring justice is being seen to be done.
On the face of it, last week’s report by the HM Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland into Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court’s Court Custody Unit (CCI) is not a bad one.
Indeed, staff there were found to be clearly well-motivated, well-led, supported each other and worked well as a team with good relationships evident between them and partner agencies.
However, when you look at some of the other aspects of the report, it suggests to me that the need for a new fit-for-purpose Justice Centre to serve the area is now a necessity rather than something on a wish list.
There simply needs to be some kind of commitment to such a facility now, rather than just a vague “it’ll happen some time” platitude.
Inspectors noted that the CCU would benefit from some decoration and maintenance, privacy arrangements for those using toilets should be reviewed, and the disabled access should also be reviewed as a matter of urgency – highlighting their concern over the fact disabled prisoners currently need to access a public area which not only affects safety and security but also exposes the prisoner to a degree of public access which is in appropriate.
Most concerning is the fact that a significant number of individuals are having to spend long periods of time secured in the CCU, with prisoners often placed in a G4S vehicle at around 7.30am and spending until 3pm or later in a holding cell before being returned to prison as late as 8pm. The inspectors warned that potentially poses a higher risk than is necessary.
The findings are probably nothing new to those who have experienced court in Kirkcaldy in recent years, but those same people all know that the current set-up is no longer fit for purpose.
We’ve heard stories of witnesses having to pass accused persons on the stairs, equipment failures, solicitors living in fear of being attacked and, most recently, a jury trial collapsing simply because someone took it upon themselves – and was left unchallenged – to lambast the jury as they were leaving for the day.
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) are aware of all this. We know they are aware of all this because money is being spent on doing up parts of Kirkcaldy Police Station to create additional courtroom space.
It’s a great stop-gap in theory, but it’s merely papering over the cracks.
Talk of a proposed £23 million new Justice Centre to serve the wider Kirkcaldy area, like the one under construction in Inverness, is so far just that: talk.
That needs to change sooner rather than later and, although money is tight, the opportunity to bring organisations together, focusing – where practical – on problem-solving approaches to reduce reoffending and increase the potential for community sentencing cannot afford to be missed.