Elaine Murray MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 09 October 2014 : Thursday, October 09, 2014
Elaine Murray (Dumfriesshire) (Lab)

I assure members that this will be the last time that they have to hear from me this week, which I am sure is a relief to everybody.

The Public Petitions Committee is to be congratulated on its tenacity in pursuing the petition, because obstacles were put in its way and the committee continued to pursue the petition over a substantial period of time.

I was completely unaware until the debate was scheduled that members of the judiciary are not required to publish a register of their interests. If I had been aware of that earlier, I might have added it to my list of unsuccessful amendments to the Courts Reform (Scotland) Bill. I am sure, had I done so, that the minister would have informed me—as Angus MacDonald said—that it was a matter for the Lord President and not for the bill.

Dave Stewart, Roseanna Cunningham and others have reminded us that there are three safeguards—the judicial oath, the statement of principles of judicial ethics and the complaints procedure—and that members of the judiciary can recuse themselves from a case. “Recuse” is another word that I have added to my vocabulary since joining the Justice Committee. I do not know whether I will have any reason to use it other than about the judiciary, but they are able to recuse themselves and that information is being published as of April. As others have said, as that publication of reasons for recusal is added to, we may get more of an idea about why judges recuse themselves.

David Torrance and others drew a parallel with members of this Parliament. As Jackson Carlaw said, we are required to take an oath or affirmation, we have a code of conduct and complaints about us can be investigated by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee. I do not think that any of us believe that those three safeguards would be sufficient to ensure public confidence, and that is what is important. We are required to update our register of interests and to declare gifts and whether we employ close relatives. We are also required to register any new interests within 28 days of those interests arising. As Joan McAlpine said, it might be a bit of a hassle, but we all recognise why it is important that we are required to do so.

The minister suggests that we are required to do so because we are accountable to the public but, as Neil Findlay said, the issue is about the scrutiny of decision-making institutions whose decisions can seriously affect members of the public. When we consider it in that context, a register of interests for the judiciary becomes more important.

Local councils are also required to maintain an updated register of interests of councillors. I do not know how all councils operate that but when a councillor in Dumfries and Galloway has a registered interest in part of the business of a meeting, they cannot even attend that part of the meeting, still less take part in discussions. They are not even allowed to sit there glaring at their fellow councillors; they have to leave the room.

I do not think that any elected member resents those requirements on us. It seems absolutely right that there is transparency—an issue that Anne McTaggart raised. It is very important that any personal or financial interests that might possibly affect our decisions are published and that they can be easily accessed by the public so that they can check on them. The register of members’ interests is online so it is easy for the public to check whether we have any particular interests.

As was drawn out in the committee discussions, it is not just politicians who are required to register their interests; members of boards of public agencies such as the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Ambulance Service are also required to register their interests. In fact, three judges sit on the board of the Scottish Court Service and their interests have to be registered, so, in a sense, that begs the question, why not others? As Dave Stewart pointed out, members of the House of Lords have to register their interests and therefore, prior to the installation of the Supreme Court, the law lords were expected to publish their interests, so why must the situation differ for judges?

I realise that there may be security issues around litigants who are unhappy about judgments. However, a register could surely be drawn up in such a way as to protect certain information. To a certain extent, we are protected. We may have constituents who do not much like us or who are upset about what we have done or not done in pursuance of their cases, but there are safeguards in our register and they cannot necessarily find out where we stay and that sort of thing. Surely we would be able to do the same sort of thing for judges.

It is the case, of course, that the judiciary of Scotland are a small band of people and many of them originate from the same strata of society. People are suspicious of the old school tie, who people’s friends and family are and financial relationships. Also, as other members have said, membership of certain organisations can be suspected of being influential. The more that such information is in the public domain, the more people can be assured that such matters do not affect how judgments are made.

In the words of Moi Ali, who stood down as the judicial complaints reviewer this summer after three years’ service:

“Given the position of power held by the judiciary, it is essential not only that they have absolute integrity–but crucially, that they are seen to have absolute integrity.”

Therefore, the issue is not that anyone doubts the judiciary’s integrity, but that the public need to see that integrity.

16:45  

Meeting of the Parliament 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Elaine Murray (Dumfriesshire) (Lab)

If that is the case—if there is that causation—why did crime in England and Wales fall 15 per cent last year, and why is it at its lowest point since records there began 33 years ago?



Meeting of the Parliament 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Elaine Murray (Dumfriesshire) (Lab)

Like other members, I welcomed last week’s announcement by the chief constable that he had jettisoned his policy of deploying armed police officers on routine duties. However, like many people, including many of my constituents, I wonder how the situation arose in the first place, why the checks and balances were not in place to ensure that such a controversial decision could be made without consultation or discussion, why the Scottish Police Authority did not intervene, and why the Cabinet Secretary for Justice stood aside and passed the buck.

Several weeks ago, a retired police officer informed me that he had observed armed police officers attending a contretemps between some street drinkers on Whitesands in Dumfries. On 2 August, Peter Lenthall, a retired Army officer from Penpont, observed an armed police officer in Dumfries supermarket, not attending an incident but buying his supper. Mr Lenthall, who has extensive experience of firearms, instantly recognised the weapon as a Glock 17. He approached the officer, expressed his concern and inquired how many rounds of ammunition it contained. The following Monday, Major Lenthall received a visit to his home by a sergeant, who told him that the change of policy had been approved by the cabinet secretary. Major Lenthall was then asked to sign a piece of paper, which he refused to do. Since then, another constituent has observed another armed police officer shopping in a different local supermarket. How was that ever considered to be acceptable?

It is not just the decision to change policing policy that has caused outrage; it is the way that it was done. I am sure that Dumfries and Galloway is not the only part of the country that is concerned about what is felt to be the imposition of the former Strathclyde Police’s policies and targets on the rest of Scotland. The relationship between the public and our police in Dumfries and Galloway has always been good.

Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary was well respected, and there was much concern about and opposition to the creation of Police Scotland. I supported a single force, but I was told—and I told other people—that local accountability would continue under it. However, local accountability in Dumfries and Galloway is simply not the same as it was. Many of us feel let down, and we almost feel as though we have let other people down. Unless the issue is addressed, there is a real danger of loss of confidence in the police, which would be extremely sad, as our local police at all levels do an extremely good job—they are absolutely exemplary.

The Labour motion asks the cabinet secretary to resign. I certainly do not do that lightly, because I am always happier playing the ball than the man. I know that those on the Government benches did not like the reference to the cabinet secretary’s decision on the release of al-Megrahi, but that was highly controversial, as everybody will remember, and it was hurtful to many of the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing.

Then there is the cabinet secretary’s role, or lack of it, in the closure of police counters and control rooms, the latter again without local consultation. When Mr MacAskill came to Dumfries, he refused to meet the 30 staff who were losing their jobs at the police control room in the town.

In one of his most disgraceful speeches in this Parliament, he dismissed, insulted and trivialised the genuine concerns of Opposition politicians who were wrestling with a problem surrounding the proposal to abolish the requirement for corroboration in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, and then he capitulated and did what we had been asking him to do and remitted the issues for further consideration.

The cabinet secretary has stood aside when communities and politicians have expressed concern over court closures, stop and search and the routine deployment of armed police, always excusing his inaction on the basis that those issues were operational matters for the police. I am sorry to say that the cabinet secretary does not seem to understand the difference between interfering and taking responsibility and showing leadership. If he is not able to do that, perhaps he should be considering a change of job.

15:40  

Justice Committee 07 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Elaine Murray (Dumfriesshire) (Lab)

I was struck by ACC Graham’s evidence on the risk of sexual harm orders, and particularly the point that, at present, activity has to have taken place on at least two occasions before a civil order can be imposed. ACC Graham argues that it should be reduced to one. Is there any argument that one should not be enough, particularly given that that does not trigger a criminal prosecution at that point?



Justice Committee 07 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Elaine Murray

My other question is on education. Given the exposure of young people to pornography and other aberrant forms of sexual behaviour online, they can clearly feel that those behaviours are normal if they do not have the appropriate education. I do not want to stray on to another petition that has had a bit of publicity recently but, in your view, is the education that is offered to young people nowadays sufficient to address the problem by enabling those who might perpetrate such behaviour to realise that it is an offence and by giving potential victims the confidence to refuse such approaches?



Meeting of the Parliament 07 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Elaine Murray (Dumfriesshire) (Lab)

I do not have a question on the amendments. My only question is why 24 drafting amendments are being brought here at stage 3, in addition to a number of other amendments, when the Government drafted the bill. Why do we have all these errors that must be corrected at the final hurdle?



Meeting of the Parliament 07 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Elaine Murray

The Parliament has always taken seriously personal injury that is caused by exposure to asbestos. Many members have raised the issue in Parliament through various mechanisms, including members’ business debates. Des McNulty promoted a member’s bill on it back in 2006 and we passed the Scottish Government’s Damages (Asbestos-related Conditions) (Scotland) Act 2009.

My colleague John Pentland brought amendments similar to amendments 61 and 65 to the Justice Committee at stage 2, when the cabinet secretary assured us that the Government believes that all cases that merit counsel will continue to benefit from counsel. The cabinet secretary also said that later stage 2 amendments to ease the test for remit from the sheriff court to the Court of Session would allay concerns.

Mr MacAskill assured the committee that he would continue to meet Clydeside Action on Asbestos regularly during the bill’s passage, to ensure that those who suffer from asbestos-related conditions and those who have lost loved ones to such conditions are supported through the court process and receive the justice that they deserve. However, I do not believe that he has reassured Clydeside Action on Asbestos because, at 4.15 last Wednesday, I was contacted with the request that we lodge the amendments again. I welcome CAA members to the public gallery to hear the proceedings.

The illnesses—many of which have been caused by occupational exposure to asbestos fibre, often many years ago—include mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural plaques. The victims who suffer from those conditions are a legacy of Scotland’s industrial history and they deserve the Parliament’s full support.

I expect the Government to argue that the complexity of asbestos-related conditions will ensure that cases are remitted to the Court of Session and are not considered under simple procedure. I do not doubt that arguments will be made about the difficulties of legislating for one group of personal injuries.

However, the Parliament has already legislated for this group of personal injury sufferers by passing the legislation that the Government introduced in 2009. What has changed? Even if, because of the complexity of asbestos-related cases, it is highly unlikely that such cases would be considered under simple procedure or heard outwith the Court of Session, why not make it clear in the bill that the exclusive competence will not apply to asbestos-related cases and that they will not be considered under simple procedure? What is the harm in providing that reassurance to sufferers of such industrial disease and their families and to surviving relatives? Amendment 61 would disapply the sheriff court’s exclusive competence from personal injuries that were caused by exposure to asbestos.

Amendment 65 would exclude such cases from being heard under simple procedure. The stage 2 amendments to prevent any cases that are raised in the specialist personal injury court from being subject to simple procedure might cover that amendment’s intention; I will listen to what the cabinet secretary says about that. However, I am not sure that the entire intention is covered, and my amendment would prevent any asbestos-related cases from being heard under simple procedure.

Amendments 7 to 9 concern appeals from the personal injury court going to the Court of Session rather than the sheriff appeal court. Similar amendments were defeated by five votes to four at stage 2, but my opinion is still that there are compelling arguments for considering the amendments, so I have brought them back.

The intention in the bill is to set up a specialist personal injury court, where cases will be heard by two specialist personal injury sheriffs—not sitting together—and, unless certain conditions apply, cases will be heard by a jury of 12 people. As the bill stands, appeals against the decisions of that court could be heard by a sheriff appeal court that might consist of one sheriff sitting alone, possibly without the specialist expertise in personal injury cases that the original sheriff had. That seems inconsistent, as surely appeals against decisions that are made by a specialist court should be heard by a specialist court—the Court of Session—which of course will be hearing personal injury cases of values above the privative limit and will still have that specialism.

At stage 2, the Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs expressed confidence that the rules of court and the president of the sheriff court would ensure that the appropriately constituted court would hear the appeal. She also argued that section 106 allows

“the sheriff appeal court to remit the appeal to the Court of Session”. —[Official Report, Justice Committee, 17 June 2014; c 4757.]

In addition, the minister argued that section 102B, which was inserted into the bill by a very welcome amendment from John Finnie, would also help to ensure that. It applies the test that was proposed by Sheriff Principal Taylor that, in both the sheriff court and the sheriff appeal court, the court must have regard to the difficulty or complexity of the case and to what we have termed equality of arms when deciding to sanction the employment of counsel.

Finally, the argument was made that there was no justification for treating one category of case—personal injury—differently from all others. However, if that is the case, why is the only specialist court that is being set up the personal injury court? We are already treating personal injury differently.

Those arguments miss the point of the principle behind my amendment. It is not about equality of arms or what the president of the sheriff court is able to do. It is about whether it is appropriate for an appeal heard by a specialist sheriff and a civil jury to be potentially heard by a single sheriff or even three sheriffs, none of whom might be specialist injury sheriffs. I contend that it is not appropriate and that those appeal cases should be heard in the Court of Session.

I move amendment 61. [Interruption.]



Meeting of the Parliament 07 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Elaine Murray

I will clarify what happened at stage 2. John Pentland withdrew his amendment and said that he was doing so for the time being because we were promised that other amendments would address all his concerns and, indeed, those of Clydeside Action on Asbestos. The people at Clydeside Action on Asbestos are the experts on the issue. They were not reassured and asked for the amendments to be reconsidered at stage 3 in light of the amendments to the bill.

We have, rightly, already legislated for asbestosis-related conditions separately in 2009. The Parliament has recognised that there are specific issues with that form of personal injury, which is the result of a shameful industrial legacy. The Scottish justice system must serve those who are affected justly, fairly and with the utmost efficiency. The victims of such conditions and their families are entitled to have in the bill the sort of assurances that my amendments present.

The issue with the personal injury court is still about the level of specialism that has to exist in the appeal court when it hears an appeal against a judgment of a specialist court. It is only appropriate that another court with a similar level of expertise be able to hear that appeal. Therefore, I continue to support my amendments 7 to 9 on that matter and will press amendment 61.



Meeting of the Parliament 07 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Elaine Murray

I rise to support the amendments, which I believe are in the same spirit as my amendment 79. They would require an appropriate level of expertise in the sheriff court, and we will support them.



Meeting of the Parliament 07 October 2014 : Tuesday, October 07, 2014
Elaine Murray

I lodged an amendment on this matter at stage 2, arguing that the three-month time limit in the bill for applications for judicial review should commence when the applicant becomes aware of the grounds for an appeal rather than when the grounds arise. The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs argued that that would be a subjective test, that it could lead to legal arguments about when the requisite knowledge had been acquired and that that could protract proceedings unnecessarily. As that approach was rejected on those grounds, my amendments 5 and 6 would extend the period of application for judicial review from three to six months.

The committee heard a range of views from witnesses on the time limit. Several argued that three months is insufficient time to put together a case and secure funding, particularly in the case of appeals from community groups. On the other hand, it is desirable that judicial review be made promptly and resolved quickly, but that should not be at the expense of fairness.

At stage 2, the minister also made the point that the three-month period operates satisfactorily in England and Wales. However, her colleague Roderick Campbell informed the committee that judicial review is much less common in Scotland than it is in England and Wales. I therefore contend that the time limit can be extended to ensure fairness to applicants when an appeal may be more complicated, in circumstances in which community groups are involved or when the securing of funding for an appeal is not straightforward.

Six months seems a sensible compromise, considering the different opinions that the committee heard from witnesses. My feeling is that 12 months would be too long and could result in a protracted review process and that, under the circumstances, six months is the appropriate time.

I move amendment 5.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11123 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
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NoCarried

S4M-11114.2 Kenny MacAskill: Policing—As an amendment to motion S4M-11114 in the name of Graeme Pear
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11114 Graeme Pearson: Policing—That the Parliament acknowledges that policing in Scotland contin
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116.1 Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to motion S4M-11116 in the name of Jo
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NoCarried

S4M-11116 Johann Lamont: Scotland’s Future—That the Parliament recognises the result of the independ
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NoCarried

Amendment 61 moved by Elaine Murray on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland) Bi
>> Show more
YesDefeated

Amendment 62 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
>> Show more
YesDefeated

Amendment 63 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
>> Show more
YesDefeated

Amendment 64 moved by Margaret Mitchell on motion S4M-11101 Kenny MacAskill: Courts Reform (Scotland
>> Show more
NoDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Elaine Murray
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11100: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11099: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11018: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 26/09/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10539: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09769: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09696: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 09/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09250: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/03/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09095: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 20/02/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09087: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 19/02/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08988: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 06/02/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Elaine Murray
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-22935: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03614: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 20/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22823: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 10/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22590: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 24/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22589: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 24/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03564: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22559: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22558: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22328: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 08/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22123: Elaine Murray, Dumfriesshire, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 14/07/2014 Show Full Question >>

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