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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 17:22 GMT
Minister's statement on McKie case
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson has defended the handling of the Shirley McKie fingerprint case and again rejected calls for a public inquiry.

This is the full text of her statement to the Scottish Parliament.

I want to begin today by reminding everyone what lies at the heart of this issue.

This case is about people - the decisions they took and the impact those decisions had. And this case is about processes - the systems within which those people operated.

The lord advocate has just set out, as the head of our independent prosecution service, the investigations made and the decisions taken about the people involved. I will not second-guess those decisions - as some are in danger of doing.

I believe we were elected to this chamber to make good laws for Scotland. We are not above the due process of those laws.

I will set out clearly the changes and improvements made to those systems and organisations since. I will also set out why a public inquiry into this case would be unnecessary - and a potential obstacle to our fingerprint service moving forward as we transform our criminal justice services.

Shirley McKie was acquitted of perjury on 14 May 1999.

On 20 March 2000, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary began an inspection of the SCRO fingerprint bureau.

On 22 June 2000, Jim Wallace, as minister for justice, made a statement to this parliament. He acknowledged that independent experts had found that the print found at the Marion Ross murder scene was not Shirley McKie's. He also expressed regret for her suffering, and I am sure that everyone in this parliament would agree with that sentiment.

On 14 September 2000, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary published a report following its inspection of the SCRO fingerprint bureaux. It contained 25 recommendations covering organisation, training, quality assurance and independent scrutiny.

On 6 July 2001, the lord advocate announced that over 1,700 cases examined by SCRO fingerprint staff over 13 months had been independently reviewed and confirmed to be accurate with no misidentifications.

On 7 September 2001, the lord advocate confirmed that there would be no criminal proceedings against the SCRO officers.

In November 2001, Shirley McKie served proceedings against Scottish ministers.

On 20 March 2002, a scrutiny committee was set up by Acpos, with an independent chair, to conduct a disciplinary investigation. It reported that there were no matters of misconduct or lack of capability in the work of the SCRO officers - and that no disciplinary action should be taken.

On 17 March 2005, HMIC reported, following three further inspections of SCRO, that all of his recommendations from 2000 had been discharged.

On 29 June 2005, the executive announced it was willing to settle the Shirley McKie case on the basis that the fingerprint misidentification was not malicious.

Following that announcement discussions between the parties continued right up until 7 February, when a settlement was reached.

An enormous amount has been done since September 2000 to change and improve our fingerprint services.

That's why I am so concerned by the allegations that have been made about the adequacy of the Scottish Fingerprint Service as it is now. Allegations that are damaging to public confidence.

But let's look at the facts.

Firstly, all of the recommendations made by HMIC and Acpos in the wake of the Shirley McKie case have been successfully implemented.

As a result of these and other changes we now have:

  • a National Fingerprint Service
  • national guidance on fingerprint standards and procedures
  • rigorous procedures to ensure identification is independently verified
  • a structured training and development programme for each fingerprint expert which includes annual external competency testing
  • a service which operates to internationally-recognised audited quality standards.

The Scottish Fingerprint Service is not falling behind international standards. In fact there are a number of features of the service which put it ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom.

It is the only UK service which subjects itself to annual testing by an external agency - a measure the Association of Chief Police Officers in England have described as a model of good practice which they hope to follow.

And we have not finished yet.

As part of our plans for the new Scottish Police Services Authority, we will be creating a new Forensic Science Service for Scotland. The fingerprint service will be part of that new service.

As I have indicated before, we intend to introduce a new standard of fingerprint evidence in Scotland - the non-numeric standard - used in many jurisdictions across the world.

This will enhance further the presentation and understanding of fingerprint evidence in our courts. We intend that the new standard will be in place by Autumn 2006 following a thorough implementation and awareness programme

I have described the extensive programme of renewal and modernisation that the Scottish Fingerprint Service has gone through over the last five years.

I am determined that Scotland's fingerprint service should be recognised as world class. I believe we have an historic opportunity to realise that ambition by demonstrating independent oversight, scientific excellence and transparent adherence to standards.

I have today instructed the interim chief executive of the Scottish Police Services Authority, Deputy Chief Constable David Mulhern, to bring forward by the end of March an action plan to develop the Scottish Fingerprint Service as an integrated part of the new Scottish Forensic Science Service from April 2007.

In preparing his action plan Deputy Chief Constable Mulhern will draw on the best available scientific advice and expertise in organisational development and human resource management. I will make his plan available to parliament and keep parliament informed of his work over the next year.

I know that a number of members have expressed support for an independent public inquiry. We need to consider carefully whether anything of value could be achieved by such an inquiry, how long it would take, and what impact it would have on the process of reform while we awaited the outcome.

A statutory inquiry could not rule on any person's civil or criminal liability. It could not rule on whether Ms McKie's claim against the Scottish Ministers would have been successful had she not agreed to settle out of court without admission of liability. It could not rule on convictions or acquittals which have taken place in the past, nor determine whether particular persons who were under investigation were guilty of criminal conduct.

So a public inquiry could not change the outcome of the criminal investigation; it could not reverse the findings of the disciplinary investigation; and I very much doubt if it would be the right way to secure further improvement of our fingerprint service.

I believe we have to accept that neither Ms McKie, nor those alleged to have wronged her, will ever be reconciled.

Neither I nor a public inquiry can change that. But as a minister it is my job to learn lessons from the past while looking to the future.

Much has been made of the rights and wrongs of this case. I firmly believe that settling with Ms McKie was the right thing to do.

Right for her - as fair recompense for all that she has been through.

Right for our fingerprint service and its staff - to allow them to move forward as part of a new national forensic service and central police authority.

And right for the executive - as an appropriate settlement that is defensible for the public purse.

It is also right that we should defend and support the independence of the lord advocate in making decisions about prosecutions.

And it is right that we should acknowledge the integrity of Scotland's fingerprint service today and support the efforts to develop and improve that service so that it is recognised as being world class.

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