Miners convicted of certain offences dating from the nationwide miners' strike in 1984-85 will be pardoned in order to aid reconciliation within the affected communities, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has announced.
Mr Yousaf's statement to MSPs followed the independent review of the impact of policing on communities during the strike, conducted by solicitor advocate John Scott QC, which recommends that, subject to establishing suitable criteria, the Scottish Government should introduce legislation to pardon those convicted for matters related to the strike.
The year-long strike saw bitter and sometimes violent confrontations between miners and police outside many collieries, especially as some miners attempted to return to work.
Speaking as his report was published, Mr Scott commented: "This strike was different – for miners it was about communities defending their way of life, their jobs, and their future. More than three decades on, the question posed for us was how best to learn from this period, to aid the community as a whole – importantly, including the policing community – in understanding, reconciliation and inclusion."
His report notes that the Cabinet Ministerial Group on Coal, set up to review the progress of the strike and the UK Government's response, paid "scant regard for the independence of the police. The strike therefore serves as a reminder of the importance of the independence, perceived and actual, of our police service as well as the need for a robust and effective framework for accountability in policing".
On the role of the justice system, the report states: "Many men who had been in no trouble before and none since, burdened still by the loss of their jobs and good names, believe that the justice system and state as a whole punished them in a grossly excessive manner. It is hard to disagree, especially having regard to the dismissals which followed arrest or conviction... although policing and the justice system were only part of what led to the totality of disproportionate impacts, they appear to us to have been a significant part, even if, to some extent, their role in the totality of impacts was unwitting".
The report recognises the problem arising from the range behaviour in cases from the strike, much of which would still be criminal if it happened today – but that on the other hand, much of it would now be subject to diversion from prosecution.
Attempting to devise criteria for a pardon, it suggests that "if someone falls into all of the following categories (or at least 2, 3 and 4), they should be pardoned: (1) no previous convictions; (2) no subsequent convictions; (3) convicted for breach of the peace or breach of bail; (4) case disposed of by way of a fine".
It continues: "There may be other examples which are not quite so straightforward; for example, those who pled guilty in circumstances where it is reasonable to infer that they did so without a full appreciation of the implications of their decision. We recommend that such individuals should also be pardoned if they meet the relevant criteria. We also recommend that the pardon should apply to those who have subsequently died."
Rather than requiring individual applications, clear statutory criteria should be established which individuals can assess for applicability, with or without legal advice. Mr Scott draws a comparison with those pardoned in 2006 having been executed for desertion or cowardice during World War 1. He believes that somewhere over 500 individuals are likely to be affected.
He concludes: "We appreciate that it may seem odd to recommend pardons when we are not saying that every case involved a miscarriage of justice; indeed it seems clear that many of the convictions were for behaviour accepted and admitted by the men involved. While the focus of our review has been on the impact of policing our recommendation is driven by the totality of impacts of various parts of the state, including policing. Especially where the then Cabinet Secretary sought ‘understanding, reconciliation and inclusion’ from our work, we could not step back from what appeared to us to be a fair, appropriate, indeed even necessary, recommendation."
Speaking yesterday Mr Scott said: "In many meetings, including eight in mining communities in 2018, we were privileged to meet and hear from many of those who are still affected by the strike – miners, police officers and the families of both. These and others helped us to reach what seemed to us to be an appropriate acknowledgment by the state for some of the lasting damage."
He thanked his colleagues on the review group, Jim Murdoch, Professor of Public Law at Glasgow University, Kate Thomson, former assistant chief constable, and Dennis Canavan, former MP and MSP, "for their wise counsel and invaluable insight in this important work".
The Justice Secretary said: "Although the strike took place some 35 years ago, it is clear from conversations I have had with many miners the pain they feel is still very raw to this day.
"This collective pardon also applies posthumously and symbolises our desire for truth and reconciliation, following the decades of hurt, anger and misconceptions which were generated by one of the most bitter and divisive industrial disputes in living memory.
"The pardon is intended to acknowledge the disproportionate impacts arising from miners being prosecuted and convicted during the strike – such as the loss of their job. Subject to Parliament’s approval of legislation, it will also recognise the exceptional circumstances that resulted in former miners suffering hardship and the loss of their good name through their participation in the strike."
Speaking of the role of the police, he added: "It is also vital to acknowledge that many officers involved in policing the strike found it an incredibly difficult time – being rooted in their communities and having family members who were miners. The work John Scott QC has done to reach out to all those involved in an effort to aid reconciliation is to be commended."