Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Tuesday, 23 June 2009 15:08 UK

Bid to speed up community service

Sheriff James Tierney
Sheriff James Tierney had highlighted problems in Aberdeen

An extra £5.5m is being ploughed into dealing with non-custodial sentences to clear backlogs in the system, the Scottish Government has announced.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told MSPs the move would speed up the use of community service orders.

It came after an Aberdeen sheriff demanded an explanation when it emerged a criminal completed virtually none of his community sentence.

Mr MacAskill was also being quizzed about ministers' justice reforms.

He told Holyrood's justice committee the extra funding - £1.5m now and £4m next year - would come on top of an extra £2m put in this year to community service.

"Community sentences need to start on time and be enforced rigorously," the justice secretary said.

"But they also need to offer the support which offenders need."

Situation 'unacceptable'

Mr MacAskill added: "Most of this money will go to local authorities to help them clear their backlogs and achieve tighter turnaround times."

The announcement came after Sheriff James Tierney demanded an explanation over the case of George Thomson.

Thomson, who had admitted drugs charges, had served just two-and-half hours of a 280-hour community service order - a situation branded "unacceptable" by the sheriff.

Mr MacAskill appeared before the committee to answer questions on the Scottish Government's Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill, currently going through parliament.

The legislation includes bringing in "community payback orders" to replace probation, community service orders and some other penalties.

The justice secretary said the move would reduce reoffending and enable offenders to repay communities for the damage done by their deeds.

And he defended other measures in the bill, including a presumption against prison sentences of than less than six months and the creation of a sentencing council, which has been attacked by Scotland's senior judges.

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