Comment: New clarity on how courts decide on sentencing

Head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Crown Agent for Scotland, David Harvie, the prosecutor member of the Scottish Sentencing Council

Head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Crown Agent for Scotland, David Harvie, the prosecutor member of the Scottish Sentencing Council

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Recently, I met a 19-year-old who spends his days working with other young people encouraging them not to become involved in crime.

He knows only too well the consequences of being caught up in the justice system, having ended up in a young offenders’ institution and he now uses his experience to support others to make positive choices.

Whether those young people convicted of offences are sent to jail, ordered to serve a community payback order or some other sentence, can sometimes wrongly be viewed as a matter of luck.

Balancing the future lives of our young people and indeed all offenders, achieving justice for victims of crime and preserving the safety of our communities is not a matter of luck.

Sentencing decisions are reached following very careful consideration of a broad range of factors.

The Scottish Sentencing Council, which publishes its inaugural Business Plan today, will seek to increase public understanding of the sentencing process and also create guidelines for judges to promote consistent sentencing in courts throughout Scotland.

One of the early issues we will focus on is the sentencing of young offenders. This is a complex area and our guidelines will provide the public with more information about how such decisions are made.

However, we will begin with an overarching guideline, setting out the fundamental principles and purposes which underpin all sentencing decisions.

Court decisions on appropriate sentences in particular cases do already exist in Scotland, but the fundamental principles and purposes which lie at the heart of the sentencing process have never before been comprehensively set out in a single place.

We will also begin to work on offence-specific guidelines, starting with two significant, complex offences, before turning to higher volume crimes.

Deaths caused by dangerous driving can have a huge impact on families, friends and local communities.

Environmental issues also have a particular resonance in Scotland given the scale of our tourism and rural industries. This makes them of significant importance to our overall economy. We will also begin research into the sentencing of sexual offences, with a focus on those involving children – which now account for a high proportion of cases, particularly in the High Court.

We know that a wide range of other offences are of concern to the public and we are absolutely committed to addressing them too, we welcome views on other aspects of sentencing from interested organisations and individuals.

We realise that new guidelines will impact a range of people and organisations and have pledged not to rush through our work. Views will be actively sought from interested groups across the justice sphere and beyond. The impact of sentencing is experienced by victims of crime, those who commit offences, their respective families and local communities. That is why we are determined to ensure that we listen to the views and capture the experiences of all sections of Scottish society who have a stake in our justice system.

l Head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), Crown Agent David Harvie is the prosecutor member of the Scottish Sentencing Council.

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