THE maximum sentence for carrying a knife will rise from four years to five, as the government unveiled its latest attempt to crackdown on the menace of violence on Scottish streets.
• Justice Secretary promises to clarify court powers to impose consecutive sentence on people released early who reoffend prior to end of original jail term
• MacAskill: ‘Knife crime has been a blight on our communities for too long’
Kenny MacAskill warned knife crime “has been a blight on our communities for too long” as he proposed the new law.
Meanwhile, people who reoffend after being released early from prison should serve two sentences - the remainder of the previous term and the punishment for their latest crime - the Justice Secretary has said.
That follows criticism of the Scottish Government’s failure to abolish automatic early release of prisoners half-way through sentences of less than four years, by political opponents and police superintendents.
Murder has fallen in Scotland, but knife crime still accounted for 47 homicides in 2011/12, more than half the total of 88.
The Scottish Government has resisted calls for automatic prison sentences for carrying a knife, despite protests outside parliament, and has instead focused on education initiatives.
The tougher stance was widely welcomed.
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Anything that deters people from carrying knives is to be welcomed, and hopefully this increased maximum sentence will do exactly that.
“However, the Scottish Government could have saved itself the hassle of the second announcement on consecutive sentencing by abolishing automatic early release.
“The SNP has twice pledged to do this, but still some of Scotland’s most dangerous criminals are serving only half their sentence, regardless of how they behave while inside.”
Scottish Labour’s justice spokesman, Lewis Macdonald added: “It was Scottish Labour who in government doubled the sentence for knife crime, and I am glad the SNP are building on our work.
“However, there also needs to be reform of sentencing policy so that a prison sentence means what it says, and victims and communities can have some certainty about how long a prison sentence will last.”
Mr MacAskill was at Strathclyde headquarters in Glasgow on Monday, where police say an increase of stop and search has led to an 18 per cent reduction in knife carrying.
Steve House, Scotland’s new national chief constable, has said tackling violence will be one of his main priorities, building on the work of the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), which has sought to reduce gang activity, particularly in Glasgow.
Detective Chief Superintendent John Carnochan, co-director of the VRU, said: “Prevention is undoubtedly better than cure when it comes to violence – we need to try and stop the drama before it becomes a crisis, help people understand that carrying weapons and using violence to resolve conflict is wrong long before the police, the courts, the justice system have to get involved.”
He added: “However, there will always be some people who just need locking up, and today’s announcement sends the clear message that knife carrying is unacceptable and those who think otherwise will be punished.”
“Diverting young people away from carrying knives or ever getting involved in gang violence are the most effective way of reducing the grim toll of injury caused by knife crime in Scotland,” Alison McInnes, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman said.
The Scottish Government will include the proposals in a Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which will be introduced in the Scottish Parliament next year.
Mr MacAskill said: “Knife crime has been a blight on our communities for too long.
“This government is working tirelessly to tackle this and progress is being made through a combination of tough enforcement on the streets, backed by education.
“The message I’d send out today is that knives cost lives, the consequences can be devastating and carrying a knife is just not worth the risk.
“Our police forces are carrying out a record number of stop and searches on the streets and being caught with a knife could now land you a five-year prison sentence.”