‘Not in the public interest’ to prosecute users of consumption rooms, says Scotland’s lord advocate

Scotland’s lord advocate, Dorothy Bain KC, has said she would be prepared to publish a prosecution policy stating that ‘it would not be in the public interest to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within a pilot safer drugs consumption facility’.

The move by Scotland’s chief law officer could potentially pave the way for consumption rooms to be legally piloted in Scotland. 

Staff at the MSIC in Sydney Australia observe people while they use their drugs, and provide medical assistance or advice if needed. Photo by Nigel Brunsdon (nigelbrunsdon.com)
Staff at the MSIC in Sydney Australia observe people while they use their drugs, and provide medical assistance or advice if needed. Photo by Nigel Brunsdon (nigelbrunsdon.com)

While she has not been asked to sign-off or approve any facility, ‘prosecution policy is for me alone to set’, states Bain. Scotland’s drug-related death figure has now fallen to its lowest level since 2017, but the country’s drug death rate remains the highest in Europe and the Scottish Government has long been at loggerheads with Westminster over its policy on consumption rooms. The Home Affairs Committee recently recommended the use of consumption room pilots as part of a shift towards ‘public health based interventions’.

The lord advocate’s statement would not cover any offences other than possession, Bain stated: ‘It does not amount to an exclusion zone whereby a range of criminality is tolerated. Police Scotland have operational independence and it has been of the utmost importance to me to ensure that Police Scotland retain the ability to effectively police the facility and ensure that the wider community, those operating the site, and those using the facility can be kept safe.’ 

The Scottish Government welcomed the announcement, stating that it ‘removes an obstacle’ to establishing the first official consumption room facility in the UK. Bain had previously considered a proposal for a pilot scheme by Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership. 

‘Glasgow authorities may now progress their proposal to set up a facility which can operate within the existing legal framework,’ said drugs minister Elena Whitham. ‘While the service would still be limited to some extent, due to the reserved Misuse of Drugs Act, we are confident it would save lives. This is not a silver bullet. But we know from evidence from more than 100 facilities worldwide that safer drug consumption facilities work. It is now time to see this approach piloted in Scotland.’

‘We hope the lord advocate’s decision will move Scotland closer to introducing overdose prevention centres in areas where people are most vulnerable,’ added policy lead for With You in Scotland, Graeme Callander. ‘Evidence shows that overdose prevention centres can reduce deaths, encourage safer injecting practices, prevent infections, and increase engagement with treatment and support services. Although some progress has been made in reducing drug-related deaths in Scotland, it simply isn’t enough. As a nation, we need to embrace innovative approaches and commit to making real change in order to save lives.’

Statement on pilot safer drug consumption facility at www.copfs.gov.uk/about-copfs/news/lord-advocate-s-statement-on-pilot-safer-drug-consumption-facility/

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