EDINBURGH: The meeting with MacAskill comes just months after the Scottish Court Service signed an agreement to allow Sikhs to carry a kirpan in courts. The SPS confirmed that a relaxation of the blanket ban on knives in Scottish jails was on the cards.
A spokesman said: “Our chaplain advisers have been in discussions over creating some kind of memorandum of understanding about visiting Sikh chaplaincy volunteers but there is no immediate intention to sign that off.
“We do our utmost to respect the individuals in custody and allow them to practice their faith as best as they can within the confines of the prison environment.”
A similar exception already exists south of the Border, where some prisons employ Sikh chaplains who are allowed to carry the kirpan. However, with a number of tough measures underway to reduce knife crime in Scotland, critics said the decision would send out entirely the wrong message to criminals.
Scottish Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “No one wants to interfere with anyone’s religion. But the fact is this is the law, and it has to be observed.”Prisons are places of high security, which is why we have to be very strict about what gets in. The visitors are only without these items for a short period of time.”That is the way it has to be, and they will have to decide if they are going to leave the item at home, or go without visiting prisons.”
Knife campaigner John Muir, who launched a crusade on soft-touch justice in Scotland after his son was murdered in Greenock, said he had nothing against kirpans in principle.
But Muir added: “I think anywhere else than a prison, I’d have no objection to the kirpan, but we have to be realistic here. It is not the right place for any type of knife, blunt or otherwise.”
Kirpans are one of the five articles of faith worn at all times by devout Sikhs, along with the kanga (a small wooden comb worn in hair); the kara (an iron bracelet worn on the right wrist); kachera (cotton shorts which must be washed every day); and the kesh, or hair, which must be covered by a turban.