A PREVIOUS attempt to circumvent Westminster’s ban on safe consumption rooms failed because of a legal oversight, a minister has said.

Taking a statement on Scotland’s drug death crisis after announcing the latest statistics in the Scottish Parliament, Drugs and Alcohol Minister Elena Whitham explained why a previous attempt to allow a drug consumption room in Glasgow was rejected.

Paul Sweeney (below), a Labour MSP for Glasgow and a former volunteer with Peter Krykant’s unofficial consumption van, said: “In 2017, the previous lord advocate [James Wolffe] said it wasn’t possible, despite operating under the same laws and guidance as the current Lord Advocate.

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“So can the minister tell us what exactly has changed with the latest proposal over those six years that makes this possible now and what does she have to say to the 7127 familes who have lost loved ones since the previous Lord Advocate rejected the original proposal? Many of whom would still be alive today if there hadn’t been such devastating intransigence in positions of power in this country?”

Whitham said that the way Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain had given effectively permission for the proposals to go ahead earlier this week was different from what was asked of her predecessor in 2017.

READ MORE: First Minister urges UK Government not to block safe drug consumption room pilot

The minister said Wolffe had been asked by Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership to look at changing laws reserved to the UK Government.

Different proposal

She said: “I think we need to recognise that the proposal that was put in front of the previous lord advocate was much wider in its scope and that proposal actually asked the former lord advocate to change the law, which he was not able to do.

“And he set out in his response to that request the reasons why he couldn’t. And that was why it was really important for time to be taken to work through a proposal that was actually going to meet the parameters set by the new Lord Advocate to the Justice Committee in November 2021.

“And that was worked on solidly by officials within the Scottish Government, partners within the Health and Social Care Partnership of Glasgow and Police Scotland to arrive to a position where the information that was set in front of the Lord Advocate allowed her to come to the position that she came to yesterday.”

Critics of the Scottish Government’s handling of the drug deaths crisis have said the Lord Advocate’s announcement on Monday showed ministers had long had the powers to introduce a safe consumption room.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said the Government could have sanctioned a drug consumption room “ages ago”.

According to a report from Holyrood Magazine in 2019, Wolffe told a Westminster committee that while he did have the power to instruct police officers not to arrest people using a hypothetical safe consumption room, this alone would not be enough to greenlight such a scheme.

READ MORE: The legal consequences of Scotland's drug consumption room plan

Bain explained in a letter to Holyrood’s Justice Committee her stance on suspending prosecutions for the users of a facility would be sufficient legal grounds on which to operate.

She wrote: “Against this backdrop therefore, I can confirm that were a facility, of the type described in the documents which I have been provided with, to open as a pilot in Glasgow, then I would be prepared to publish a statement of prosecution policy to the effect that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute users of that facility in terms of section 5(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 for simple possession offences committed within the confines of the facility.”

Bain added that parts of the proposals including the guarantee there would be “a range of support and assistance to those consuming drugs” at the facility was “central” to her consideration of the request.