THE PROGRAMME of justice reform in Scotland in the last few years has been significant and is shaping a much more modern and progressive criminal and civil justice system. Importantly, this balances the needs of public protection and the serving of justice with the needs of individuals who come into contact with the police.

Tomorrow will see some of the biggest changes to police procedures in Scotland for at least a generation come into effect across the country. The Criminal Justice Act creates a new framework of powers and duties for the police, modernising the law around arrest and questioning of suspects.

The act protects key rights for suspects, including access to legal advice, and abolishes the separate concepts of arrest and detention, replacing them with a single statutory power of arrest without warrant where there is reasonable grounds for suspecting a person has committed, or is committing, an offence.

It also creates new investigative tools for the police, with scope for investigative liberation and post-charge questioning. Where police suspect someone but don’t have sufficient evidence to charge them, investigative liberation will give them the option to attach conditions to the person’s liberation for a period up to 28 days while they continue to investigate, with the power to rearrest the person for the same offence as many times as may be needed within the statutory time limits.

The new power does not widen the range of suspects who can be released. Indeed, at present, if someone is suspected of a serious crime but there isn’t evidence that justifies detaining them, they must be released.

The changes have been developed from recommendations in the Carloway Review of Scottish Criminal Law and Practice published in 2011. They provide a clear balance between proper investigation of offences and protection of suspects’ rights whilst in police custody.

The introduction of such significant changes requires involvement of all partners across the criminal justice system. The Scottish Government led an implementation group with membership including Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, The Scottish Court and Tribunal Service, and the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

The group closely scrutinised each agency’s implementation plans and paved the way for a smooth transition to the new arrest and custody procedures that the act will bring.

Last summer I set out the Scottish Government’s Vision and Priorities for Justice, which included a commitment to modernise criminal and civil law and the justice system to meet the needs of people in 21st century Scotland.

Our key actions include an independent review of hate crime legislation and we are also progressing work towards raising the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to 12.

These are just some of the reforms we have committed to delivering and we must continue to make improvements to ensure our justice system is up-to-date, transparent, fair and respects the rights and needs of users.

Michael Matheson is justice secretary.