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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Row over sex offenders loophole
Steven Beech
The case of Steven Beech highlighted a loophole
All convicted sex offenders in Scotland are to be offered rehabilitation under a new plan to tackle sex crime north of the border.

The Scottish Executive also wants the police, the courts and councils to work more closely together over the issue.

Plans for the lifelong restriction and electronic monitoring of the most serious offenders are already before Holyrood.

But a row has erupted over a plan for MSPs to give their backing to moves for sex offender orders issued elsewhere in the UK to be recognised in Scotland.

Michael Matheson
Michael Matheson demanded swift action

The Scottish National Party clashed with the executive over whether Westminster or Holyrood should legislate to close the loophole.

Ministers said Holyrood should let Westminster close the loophole which allows sex offenders in England to avoid controls by fleeing to Scotland.

But the SNP insisted any new legislation should come from the Scottish Parliament.

The debate followed the case of Steven Beech who moved to Aberdeen from Cambridgeshire, forcing Grampian Police to apply for a new order.

Under existing laws a sex offender order granted in England and Wales ceases to apply if the person heads to Scotland and the same applies to sex offenders in Scotland moving elsewhere in the UK.

The Police Reform Bill at Westminster aims to close the loophole but Holyrood has to give its approval if it wants Scotland to be covered by the legislation.

Electronic tagging
The use of tags is being considered

Under the devolution settlement, Holyrood can allow Westminster to legislate on devolved issues by passing a so-called Sewel motion.

But SNP deputy justice spokesman Michael Matheson said it was unlikely the Police Reform Bill would be passed before Westminster broke up for the summer recess.

He said: "So we could therefore be in a position where this loophole could be left open until October when the House of Commons returns."

Mr Matheson said Holyrood could act faster by introducing emergency legislation as it had done to reimpose tolls on the Erskine Bridge last year when officials failed to notice that a previous order for tolls had run out.

New proposals

However, MSPs begin their own summer recess this week.

The row over the Beech loophole overshadowed the executive's announcement of a range of measures aimed at reducing the risk from sex offending.

Justice Minister Jim Wallace said the proposals were in response to a report published last year by an expert panel chaired by Lady Cosgrove.

Key proposals include:

  • improved risk assessment through a framework used by all agencies working with sex offenders

  • introduction of a system for flagging on an offender's record the existence of a sexual element in any case where the charge itself is not a sexual offence

  • increased availability of sex offender intervention programmes

  • closer co-operation between the Scottish Prison Service, local authorities, hospitals and the Scottish Court Service

  • release of an information leaflet which provides parents and carers with information about child safety in groups.

Mr Wallace said: "These proposals will make sure we provide much enhanced protection for the public from sex offenders.

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace's announcement was overshadowed

"The report from the Expert Panel took a very measured approach to a subject which is of continuing public concern.

"I am pleased that the recommendations made in the report secured such strong support from those who responded to the executive's consultation."

He added: "By taking on the main recommendations of the expert group's report we are implementing a comprehensive package of measures to enhance public safety.

"These will enhance the measures we have already taken forward in our Criminal Justice Bill."

See also:

05 Jun 02 | Scotland
01 May 02 | Scotland
21 Feb 02 | Scotland
13 Dec 01 | Scotland
27 Jun 01 | Scotland
26 Jun 00 | Scotland
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