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Court / Green MSP receives assurances that jury trials will return to island courts

Prisoner escort company fined £4 million for contract breaches

PRISONER escort company GEOAmey has been fined £4 million for poor performance, it has emerged.

The fines are for breaches of the company’s eight year contract with the Scottish Prison Service in 2022/23, and do not relate to GEOAmey’s issues with providing staff for prisoner escort services, which affected jury trials in the Scottish islands.

In July, sheriff principal Derek Pyle ordered that new jury trials due to be heard at Lerwick, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Portree and Lochmaddy sheriff courts should call at Scottish mainland courts due to GEOAmey’s ongoing staffing challenges.

At the end of last year Shetland News revealed that jury trials were set to return to the islands from spring 2024 onwards after the Scottish Government had stepped in directly to help GEOAmey overcome its difficulties.

Island court jury trials due to recommence in the spring

However, an audit of the prison service in Scotland, published in December, reveals the full extent of GEOAmey’s underperformance.

It found that between April 2022 and October 2023 staffing levels at the company fell from 660 to 520 full-time equivalents, around 25 per cent less than the levels needed to deliver the £250 million contract satisfactorily.

Between July and September last year only 62 per cent of prisoners due in court arrived in time, and only 63 per cent returning from court arrived back on time, the audit found.

Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands Ariane Burgess.

In parliament on Wednesday, Highlands and Islands Green MSP Ariane Burgess received assurances from justice secretary Angela Constance that GEOAmey would be in a position to properly resource escort services from mainland prisons to island courts from spring this year.

The minister said that GeoAmey performance was “utterly unacceptable” and confirmed that “all options remain under consideration in relation to prisoner escort arrangements in Scotland” including the option of extending the contract for a further four years beyond 2027.

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Burgess said: “Private profit should have no place in Scotland’s criminal justice system.

“The Scottish Greens have long opposed the privatisation of crucial public services such as prisoner transport and the current crisis at GEOAmey is an example of what can go wrong when public services are run for private profit.”

The Green MSP added: “GEOAmey have cut wages to staff to secure bumper profits for stakeholders. Little wonder they face a recruitment crisis. It’s poor value for the taxpayer if the Scottish Government is having to step in to address their failings in staff recruitment and retention.

“That the Scottish courts have felt compelled to order the transfer of solemn court proceedings away from Kirkwall, Lerwick, Lochmaddy, Portree and Stornoway further underlines the failure of this approach.

“It’s time we stopped dishing out huge amounts of public money to predatory companies who run our public service into the ground.”

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