The Scottish Government yesterday published a document entitled The Strategy for Justice in Scotland. I have to wonder why.
Part aspirational, part self-congratulatory, it does little more than list the desired outcomes that pretty well anyone connected with the justice system would wish to see achieved, without saying much that is not already known about how these might be delivered.
The executive summary opens: "Our vision is of a justice system that contributes positively to a flourishing Scotland, helping to create an inclusive and respectful society, in which all people and communities live in safety and security, individual and collective rights are supported, and disputes are resolved fairly and swiftly."
Very nice, but if you stop reading there, you will be about as well informed on what to expect as if you plough on through the seven sections of the paper (respectively, Introduction; Outcomes; Evidence; Priorities; Innovation; Ambition; Taking the strategy forward).
For example the "Priorities" section, one of the main ones, manages to identify 12 "key priorities for the justice system", but few will be surprised to see the likes of "Reducing crime, particularly violent and serious organised crime", or "Transforming civil and administrative justice", or "Supporting victims and witnesses", or most of the other points in there.
Under "Priority 10: Widening access to justice and advancing law reform", we learn, if that is the word, that the Government is pursuing its paper "A sustainable future for legal aid", which aims to make legal aid a fund of last resort; that there is a programme of measures to resolve disputes other than in court; that the Carloway recommendations will be pursued, as will those of Sheriff Principal Bowen on sheriff and jury trials; and that law reform work will continue through the Scottish Law Commission. No mention of the pending court rationalisation programme; and we are left to guess what it means for Citizens' Advice and similar agencies, or the Civil Legal Assistance Office, or in-court advice and mediation services, etc.
Acknowledgment is made of the challenges posed by alcohol and drug abuse, knife crime, and other endemic issues, but we are assured that these are all being tackled by the various policies and initiatives now in place. Do not open this document expecting to see fresh thinking.
There is a place for vision; there is a place for strategic goals; but a paper of this title ought to have a much more hardheaded assessment of the issues to be faced, the resources available and the choices to be made if it wants to bring on board those who work in the justice system, and the public they seek to serve.