8 June 2006

(S2F-2342) Scottish Criminal Record Office Inquiry

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what steps the Scottish Executive will take to give effect to motions S2M-4485 and S2M-4486, agreed without dissent by the Justice 1 Committee on 1 June 2006. (S2F-2342)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): Motion S2M-4485 concerns a report that was provided as part of a criminal investigation; as such, it is a matter for the Lord Advocate. Motion S2M-4486 is being considered by the Minister for Justice. We will try to find a way forward that will assist the committee while preserving the important legal principles that the Minister for Justice has previously set out.

Stewart Stevenson: I hope that the First Minister will accept that there is common cause to reinstate confidence in the fingerprint system in Scotland—which, of course, is why the motions were passed by a unanimous vote in the committee.

The First Minister mentioned the Lord Advocate. The report that is being sought is, in essence, in the public domain, but the detail behind it is not yet in the public domain. It would be of very great assistance if the First Minister could assure us that further efforts will be made. I hope that the First Minister is able to assure Parliament—and I invite him to do so—that the discussions that are currently taking place with the Minister for Justice will be rapidly concluded. The investigation by the committee is well under way and we have little time left.

The First Minister: In some of the sessions of the Justice 1 Committee this week, we have seen the difficulties in this case and the difficulties in ensuring that a conclusion can be reached that will help to rebuild confidence in the justice system—not only in the fingerprint service but in other aspects of the system too. I absolutely agree with Stewart Stevenson if he is genuine about seeking common cause to restore that confidence. I welcome that indication and I hope that in the work and in the conclusions of the committee, we will see that that objective is clear.

It is my sincere belief that matters relating to reports commissioned by the prosecution in Scotland are not matters for politicians and I hope that the committee will take that into account. I believe that such matters are matters for the Lord Advocate, which need to be handled properly to ensure that our legal system is not put in a difficult position in the future by any precedents that would be set.

In relation to matters that affect the Executive and reports commissioned by us for legal advice in advance of cases in which we are defending the public interest, there are important issues to be considered. The Minister for Justice is happy to discuss those issues in detail with representatives of the Justice 1 Committee. A meeting has already taken place between the convener of the committee and the Minister for Justice. I understand that this week's meeting was a helpful initial attempt at finding a way forward. We are determined to assist the committee as much as we can.

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow Kelvin) (Lab): The First Minister has alluded to the meeting that I had with the Minister for Justice this week at which, as the committee's representative, I set out the case for the committee to have access to both MacLeod reports and the Mike Pass report.

Does the First Minister acknowledge the cross-party efforts that the Justice 1 Committee has made to give an extremely important issue a public airing? Does he accept assurances from me as the committee's convener that we have no desire either to override the important issues that must be taken into account when the release of the reports in question is considered or to set a precedent? Does he agree that it is in the interest of the public and of the Parliament to ensure that we obtain all the information that is relevant to our important inquiry into the McKie case and the Scottish fingerprint service, so that we can make our findings?

The First Minister: It is important that the information that is made available, the advice that we give and the assistance that we provide help the committee to conduct itself in a way that is helpful to ensuring that we restore confidence in the fingerprint service and the system as a whole. I welcome the fact that committee members from different parties have indicated that that is their objective. I simply counsel that there are important principles to do with the independence of the prosecution from politicians that the committee needs to heed in the work that it undertakes.

I believe that the committee has done a good job so far. It will be important for it to take further evidence—I understand that that is its intention. I hope that we can reach a conclusion on the issue speedily and that we can ensure that the committee's recommendations and the actions of ministers work together to ensure that people in Scotland can have faith in the system and can believe that, in spite of the disagreements that may exist among experts about individual fingerprints or anything else, the system as a whole is robust and that the principles of the Scottish legal system will be maintained.

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