The Scottish Conservatives have called for electronic tag tampering to become a specific offence.
Liam Kerr, justice spokesman for the party, made the call during a Scottish Parliament debate on a planned law to increase the use of electronic tagging, through technology such as GPS and remote drug and alcohol testing.
The Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill also proposes reforms to criminal conviction disclosure and to the Parole Board.
The Bill was postponed for reviews of home detention curfews in the wake of the murder of father-of-three Craig McClelland, from Paisley, by an attacker who had disabled his electronic tag while on a curfew, leaving him “unlawfully at large”.
Following recommendations in the reviews, the Scottish Government introduced a presumption against violent criminals being released on the curfews and cross party tributes were paid to Mr McClelland’s family.
Mr Kerr told MSPs: “The shocking, unprovoked and devastating murder of Craig McClelland by James Wright – who was an individual with 16 previous convictions, out on home detention curfew, wearing a tag with which he had tampered and roamed around uninhibited for six months – provides vital and awful context to this debate and this Bill.”
He said as the Bill stands an offender on another underlying order or licence other than a curfew can cut off their tag without automatically committing an offence, as the breach hinges on the underlying order.
“I don’t think victims will accept that, I think it needs to change,” Mr Kerr added.
“We believe that when a breach constitutes the removal of or tampering with the electronic tag, it must be an offence in itself, regardless of whether this is a custodial or community sentence.”
📝Management of Offenders Bill, Stage 1:
— Colin (@ColSMal) February 7, 2019
He said his party backs the general principles of the Bill at stage one but warned that if the Government fails to bring forward promised changes at future stages, the Conservatives will not vote to pass the new law.
All other parties and the Justice Committee backed the Bill at stage one but stressed changes are required before it becomes law.
Labour’s Daniel Johnson said there were “compelling reasons” to consider making tag removal an automatic offence.
He added: “Those released, subject to a condition, such as those set out in HDC, where electronic monitoring is a substitute for incarceration, we have to treat the conditions of that as similar to that of prison – we have to treat someone in breach as though they have gone over the prison wall.”
“The Bill provides clarity as to when and how electronic monitoring can be imposed, either by the courts in relation to criminal proceedings or by Scottish Ministers in relation to release on license from detention or imprisonment.”
— ScotGov Justice (@ScotGovJustice) February 7, 2019
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said he would listen to what parties and other organisations had to say to criminalising tag tampering.
He said there is a nuance between the moment a tag is removed and when an offender becomes “unlawfully at large”, adding: “I intend to bring forward an amendment from the Government at stage 2 of being unlawfully at large being an offence.”
He said the Bill “takes forward a number of important changes to improve the criminal justice system in Scotland”.