New powers for courts to protect children

Protecting children and women are two major planks of radical
new legislation proposed in the Making Scotland Safer white paper
launched by justice minister Jim Wallace, writes Reg

If the white paper becomes law enhanced powers to protect
children are to be introduced. Among the main proposals are
substantial increases in maximum sentences for possession and
distribution of child pornography. Enhanced criminal records checks
on those working with children or vulnerable adults will also be

The most controversial proposal is the ban on physically
punishing a child under three years of age or striking an older
child with an implement. While Westminster has decided against
introducing such legislation, Scotland is to proceed against
growing pressure from campaign groups and many MSPs publicly
expressing their doubts.

Christine Graeme, convenor of the justice committee which will
consider the white paper in the first instance, said: “I cannot see
how a ban would work. We do not want the kind of society where
strangers are going up to parents in supermarkets asking how old
their children are.”

The executive came under pressure form parents’ and
Christian groups during the consultation phase including a
rejection of the proposed ban by the Parent Teacher

Support from local authority social work departments and
childcare voluntary organisations was overwhelming in spite of an
acknowledgement that public opinion was not wholeheartedly behind
the proposal.

Cathy Dewar, director of children and family services for the
child care charity Children 1st, said: “In some ways it
is a brave step forward but we are disappointed the executive has
stopped short of introducing a total ban.”

Jim Wallace, justice minister, defended the terms of the white
paper, and said: “The white paper will enhance the safety of women
and children and reinforce the executive’s commitment to
protect the more vulnerable members of society.”

Among other less controversial measures to be introduced are new
powers of arrest where someone has breached a non-harassment order.
Anti-social behaviour orders will be fast tracked to prevent
chronic distress or danger. Persistent young offenders, aged 16 to
17 years, will now be dealt with through the children’s
hearing system rather than the courts. Victim support will be
provided as a legal right.

With regard to sexual offenders, the executive has rejected the
introduction of a “Sarah’s law” where communities would have
the right to know of any known paedophiles in their area. Instead a
series of measures will be introduced including lifelong
restriction orders, the creation of a national risk management
authority to improve the protection of the public, and intensive
supervision aligned with electronic tagging of high risk

Wallace said: “A public register could effectively drive sex
offenders underground. It would be counter productive.”

The Criminal Justice Bill is expected to become law before the
summer next year.


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