New sentencing guidelines for rape and sexual assault in Scotland

The High Court of Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
The High Court of Edinburgh. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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New sentencing guidelines are being drawn up for a range of sexual offences amid an increasing number of cases in Scotland’s courts.

The Scottish Sentencing Council said it planned to develop multiple guidelines for how the courts deal with rape, sexual assault and indecent images of children.

Scotland’s courts are dealing with an increasing number of complex sexual cases.

Figures published earlier this year by the Scottish Government showed the number of people convicted of sexual offences in 2017-18 was 39 per cent higher than in 2010-11.

Judge Lady Dorrian said: “Given the wide-ranging nature of sexual offending, the council has decided to develop multiple guidelines focusing on particular sexual offences, rather than a single guideline covering all offences. This will allow each topic to be given in-depth consideration, and for the first guidelines on sexual offending to be produced more quickly.

“We recognise the considerable interest in sentencing sexual offences, and we have listened carefully to views expressed by the public, judiciary, victim support organisations, the Scottish Parliament and others in considering how best to proceed. Our priorities are always under review as new areas of work develop and, on balance, we consider that guidelines on sexual offences should take precedence over certain other areas of work at present.”

Lady Dorrian said the council would take its time to make sure it got the guidelines right.

She added: “While we recognise the desire to have sentencing guidelines on sexual offences in place as quickly as possible, as I have noted previously the potential impact of guidelines which have not been properly considered and tested would be considerable, both for individual cases and for the justice system as a whole.”

Judges and sheriffs have to take official guidelines into account when sentencing offenders in a relevant case.

Guidelines are put in place with a view to ensuring sentences are consistent, fair and proportionate.

There was controversy earlier this year when dental student Christopher Daniel, 18, was given an absolute discharge despite being found guilty of sexual assaults on a child when he was between the ages of 15 and 17. The court’s disposal meant he left with no criminal record and was not put on the sex offenders’ register. The case led Labour to call for sentencing guidelines for sexual assault cases to be produced “as a matter of urgency”.