Women for Independence

Women for Justice - Justice  for Women Campaign

Our aims

  • Scotland should have the most progressive criminal justice system in Europe by 2020.
  • To achieve social and economic  justice for women through campaigning, informing, and lobbying for change

What we know

  • Only 2% of women are in prison for crimes of serious violence
  • 80% of women sent to  prison are on short sentences of less than 6 months
  • One third of women in prison are on remand awaiting trial, mostly for offences which result in only a short prison sentence and often in  no prison sentence at all. 
  • The personal , child and family,  community and economic  impact of the unnecessary imprisonment of women is enormous and must be brought to an end within the term of the next Parliament

Our campaign plans


The aim of our campaigning is to help inform and shift public opinion towards a better and more enlightened justice system for women and for society.


We plan to launch  a women’s  “Justice Watch”  across Scotland.   We will be asking women in our affiliated local groups to routinely visit every court in Scotland, sitting in as cases are heard and reporting on the outcomes. We believe that civic society needs to have much greater knowledge of what is done in our name by the courts, and the costs and consequences of this.


Secondly, we aim to convince the public of  the economic sense of change -  and show  how prosecuting minor shoplifting or benefit offences costs thousands of pounds that could be much better used tackling the causes rather than the consequences of crime.”


Thirdly, we aim to secure cross party support for our proposals





Our Proposals  for Justice for Women

Our  six proposals are all aimed at cutting the supply of women into the prison system,. This is the most effective way to shift resources not just out of prison, but out of the unnecessary and disproportionate costs of punishing rather than curing the effects of  social and economic inequality and of the specific oppression of women.

We propose to remove prison as an option for remand or sentence for all minor offending, no matter how repeated the offences have been. We also want the impact of any remand or  sentence decision on the women, her children and family, and the wider community to be acknowledged and taken into account in decisions. We believe that this will release substantial savings  of £millions which can be used to invest in community solutions to offending and to the causes of offending

Six clear proposals for creating a better system of justice

  • By 2020 the number of women in prison in Scotland should be reduced to below 100 as a result of structural reform of our criminal justice system
  • Solemn Procedure restriction - Imprisonment should only be an option for sentence or for remand reserved for the more serious cases held  under solemn procedure, and only then when there is a clear risk to others, or a risk of flight
  • Impact Assessments.  There should be child, family and community impact assessments for women facing any sentence for crimes they have  admitted or been  found guilty of  by trial
  • Best Decision Principle No woman should be remanded or sentenced to custody because of the lack of better disposal or of the failure of health or social provision to meet her need for social, housing or health care, including drug and alcohol treatment and supported accommodation
  • 24/7 Arrest Referral to women’s support services should be made available in every locality in order to introduce effective prevention and where possible to divert women from prosecution and further offending
  • Women’s Justice Panels  should be established  in every locality to make  decisions  and to require  or commission community support and supervision services and any measures that promote justice, and are holistic, respectful of  human dignity, and  in the interests of the community, and society,  including any victims of the crime committed.




Our campaigning approach – informing and influencing the public, politicians, the judiciary and the wider system.


Women For Independence Justice for Women sub-group members want to increase our own and members’ awareness and understanding of the criminal justice service generally, and to explore particular good practice, issues and concerns around women within the system.  We believe that women are often treated differently within the system and, if they are imprisoned, it has an exponential negative impact on them, their families and their future opportunities.

The concept of Justice Watch is a strand of our campaign developed to engage local Women For Independence groups around the country for at least one year, to find out how justice in the local courts operates, to explore if, when and how women are treated differently, to find out if there are good alternatives to custody that operate around the local authority areas, in partnership with social work, and the voluntary sector, and to bring about change within the system.

Justice Watch is  a both  citizen court monitoring project and a  judicial policy tool, with the aim of making the justice system more progressive, responsive  and fit for purpose for  women and their families caught up in the CJS in Scotland. It also aims to make the courts more accountable in relation to their sentencing diet and disposals as they affect women.


It will be carried out as part of the overall aim of educating ourselves and the wider audience of women in what goes on in our courts in our name.  It will provide a woman’s perspective on judges and the  judicial system, and then extent to which it provides justice for women.

Justice Watch  will contribute to creating an informed and involved public debate on justice, crime and punishment.   




Justice Watch will recruit  a team of Women for Independence members and supporters from across the local groups to attend Sheriff Courts across Scotland, on a regular and timetabled basis, for the minimum of one year to act as courtroom monitors tracking the treatment of  accused women and what, if any, sentences are imposed against them.


Volunteer Justice Watchers will be briefed  in what to expect in court and on what we are monitoring and why, and given a template to collect and report evidence. We will not hide what we do but will let courts know when we are present and that we are conducting this public monitoring

Volunteers will obtain first-hand experience in the courtroom and become familiar with Sheriffs and prosecutors and begin to discern patterns in remand and sentencing. 

Information will be gathered and disseminated in regular reports  and briefings, and used to inform our membership, the media,the judiciary, and the Government and Parliament. 


As well as recording evidence of how women are treated in the court system, and recording the length and conditions of their sentences. We will also be looking at what assessments of a woman’s position is taken into account when sentencing is passed and whether community or other remands and  disposals are considered  (as opposed to custodial) and if the role of Court Social Work has any bearing on how women are dealt with by sheriffs.


We will also collect and celebrate examples of good practice in taking account of children and family responsibilities, and the use of community options, interim liberty orders, bail support schemes, drug and alcohol treatment and monitoring and of community sentences.


We will produce a league table/mapping  of courts and individual Sheriff’s   showing where custodial remands and sentences for non-violent and non-solemn procedure are routinely handed down; and where alternatives and community disposals are used instead. This will be part of the general evidence gathering for the wider campaign and also to engage members in solid practical support and to inform the public of our findings.


Notes: There are 39 Sheriff or Sheriff/JP courts in Scotland across 6 Sheriffdoms, some with up to 7 court rooms, most with just 1; around 80-90 court rooms in total (not in use every day). Looking at the last 5 days court business women make up between one fifth to  one sixth of the accused.

The campaign will deliver a multi-layered approach to allow us to collate evidence to support our aims.




Action for local WFI Groups


Sheriff and lower courts

Visit and observe

Monthly on date tbd – suggest first week of each month

Feed into WFJ group

High courts

Visit and observe

As cases occur

Feed into WFJ group

Local newspapers

Cuttings from court reports – likely to be more minor offences

Third week of each month

Feed into WFJ group

National newspapers

Cuttings from court reports – likely to be more serious offences

4th Tuesday of each month (allows weekend cases to be in court on the Monday, reported on the Tuesday)

Feed into WFJ group

Social media

Monitor any relevant stories that gain traction – eg: jeggings!

All/any time

Feed into WFJ group



Economy Watch is the second aspect of our campaigning strategy. We plan to take sample cases and disposals in courts across the country that we come across through Justice Watch, and to cost the entire process from arrest to sentence.  So for instance we would cost the prosecution of a £7 theft, or for breach of the peace, or common assault as follows

  • Police time for arrest and charge, papers to PF
  • Prosecutor Fiscals costs in determining and processing prosecution
  • Court costs
  • Sheriffs Costs
  • Legal Aid costs
  • Prosecuting solicitor/advocate costs
  • Police witness costs
  • Sentence costs

These costs – which are very significant and will amount to many thousands of pounds per case will be added to our Justice Watch reports and used to influence public opinion in favour of our and other enlightened proposals.  


We aim to use the information gathered from justice watch and ecnonomy watch to gain traction in the media and in public opinion, in order to influence all the political parties. We need them  to agree a consensual cross party approach to cutting the number of women in prison and towards a far more progressive justice system. 

We have already instigated and supported   Jean Urquhart MSP, a WFI member hosting of two cross party  meetings in the Parliament.

We have yet to develop a fuller strategy, but it will involve lobbying all the parties, the justice and other spokespersons, the Justice Committees, and the government, in order to push for cross party agreement. 



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