Topic: Politics & GovernmentGovernment

Last updated: March 6, 2019

It has been said that Scotland possesses a unique cultural and political heritage with a very separate legal system from the rest of the UK. This may have something to do the recommendations of the Kilbrandon Committee in 1960 (HMSO 1995) which led to the formation in Scotland of the Children’s Hearings System founded upon the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 (the 1968 Act).
This significant piece of legislation was at the heart of social work enterprise. It was seen as the start of a welfarist system which introduced the Children’s Hearing, disbanded the Scottish Probation Service and established generic social work departments within local authorities. The important sections within the 1968 Act are S.12 which makes provisions for local authorities to promote social welfare by making available advice, guidance and assistance. Also S.27 which set outs the obligations of the local authorities to the criminal justice service, this includes making available to any court such social background reports and any other reports relating to persons appearing before the which the court may require for the disposal of a case.
The 1968 Act was said to have brought the responsibility for the delivery of all social work services within one framework, placed the duty to provide social work services on local authorities and promoted social welfare (Hothersall, 2014). Taken together this was seen as bringing a more welfare orientated approach when it comes to the criminal justice system in Scotland (McAra, 2005).
During this period the Kilbrandon reforms appeared to distinctly shape the Scottish criminal justice system away from the punitive approach in operation south of the border during the Conservative UK government in power (McAra, 2017).
Throughout this period of time probation orders appeared to fall and the prison population increased (Chapman, 2012). In reply to this the Scottish Office reacted by introducing the Law Reform (Miscellanous Provisions) (Sc) Act 1991 (the 1991 Act) which restructured the funding of probation and criminal justice social work in Scotland. This change meant that 100% of the funding went directly to the local authorities where they were able to establish specialist probation teams (Chapman, 2012).
The Social Work Services Group within the Scottish Office then took responsibility for specialised training and introduced the National Objectives and Standards (Social Work Services Group, 1991). These standards set out a framework within which local authorities were required to provide social work services. Furthermore, the aims of the policy were to reduce the use of custody by increasing the availability and quality of community-based court disposal and to enable offenders to address their offending behaviour (Scottish Office, 1998) This was seen as decisive in reinforcing the ‘distinct identity and practices of criminal justice social work services in Scotland’ (Huntingford, 1992)
The dominance of the welfarist approach continued even when it was tested against a more punitive approach which could be seen in the Criminal and Punishment (Sc) Act 1997 (the 1997 Act). The 1997 Act proposed life sentences for second serious sex or violent offences and the abolition of the parole system (McAra, 2011). These proposals were seen as controversial and out of kilter to our Scottish values which lead to them never being implemented (McAra, 2017).
1998-2006 – Post devolution
By 1998 the focus moved to public protection and policies such as Tough Options (Scottish Office, 1998) which stated ‘public safety’ as priority aim of criminal justice social work (Fenton, 2014).


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