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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 July 2007, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Drunken violence plans attacked
Street brawl
Many criminals in Scotland have blamed alcohol for their actions
Moves to create legislation to stop people using drunkenness as an excuse for violent crime have come under fire.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill outlined his plans at a World Health Organization conference on violence at Tulliallan Police College.

But eminent lawyer Joe Beltrami said alcohol has never been considered as a mitigating factor by Scottish courts.

Seven out of 10 people accused of murder in Scotland were under the influence of drink or drugs.

If you behave in an ignorant loutish manner, shout, bawl, breach the peace, assault someone, commit domestic violence, don't use alcohol as an excuse
Kenny McAskill
Justice secretary

Speaking at Tulliallan, in Fife, Mr MacAskill said: "Here in Scotland we have a clear lethal cocktail of alcohol and knives that results in carnage.

"That's why we believe we have to trigger a message culturally, as well as through the legal system, that alcohol cannot and will not be tolerated as an excuse for criminal behaviour."

He said 70% of those who commit murder are under the influence of drink or drugs.

Figures show that almost half of Scotland's 7,000 prisoners claim to have been drunk at the time of their offence.

The justice secretary said: "If you behave in an ignorant loutish manner, shout, bawl, breach the peace, assault someone, commit domestic violence, don't use alcohol as an excuse. This is unacceptable."

The statement he made this morning doesn't make sense - it has always been the case that it is not a mitigatory factor
Joe Beltrami

The justice department is to undertake a review to see whether a future Criminal Justice Bill can make a clear statement in law that being drunk will not be accepted in courts as an excuse for bad behaviour.

Mr MacAskill said: "I will leave it to the Crown and the court to decide whether there are instances, and I think there are, where alcohol is an aggravation."

But Mr Beltrami accused the minister of not understanding how the law works.

He told BBC Scotland: "He should consult people who know what they are doing, who know their way about the courts, for example myself, and we'd help to keep him right.

Man on street
The licensed trade called for more responsible drinking

"But the statement he made this morning doesn't make sense - it has always been the case that it is not a mitigatory factor, it's an aggravating factor, no doubt."

Labour's justice spokeswoman Margaret Curran said: "Labour agrees with the sentiments from the SNP justice secretary, but this is just one step and in dealing with a drinking culture, the wider issues must be addressed, for example poor health and antisocial behaviour."

The Scottish Conservative Party said when it comes to alcohol abuse, some of the statistics were chilling.

John Lamont MSP said: "These figures are clear evidence that the last executive's strategy to tackle alcohol abuse didn't make any impact on the problem."

The Scottish Beer and Pub Association supported Mr MacAskill's view that drunkenness was no excuse for violence.

Chief executive Patrick Browne said: "Personal freedom to consume alcohol brings with it the personal responsibility to consume it sensibly."

The third Milestones of a Global Campaign For Violence Prevention conference at the Fife college has been organised on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO).

At the conference, worldwide experts will discuss developments in research, policy and practice for violence prevention.

The two-day meeting at Tulliallan Castle from is hosting more than 200 researchers, practitioners and advocates in the field.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Kenny MacAskill speaks about tackling drunken violence



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14 Dec 05 |  Scotland
Scotland worst for violence - UN
18 Sep 05 |  Scotland
Police condemn knife crime level
18 Jul 05 |  Scotland

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