Sexual abuse offenders and road killers to escape jail in justice shake-up

Prison will only be used for sentences of over a year
Prison will only be used for sentences of over a year
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Possession of child pornography and causing death by dangerous driving may no longer mean jail under radical plans to phase out sentences of less than a year in Scotland.

Lord Turnbull, one of Scotland’s top judges, said plans to introduce a presumption against sentences of less than a year could be applied to sentences of up to a year-and-a-half - after discounts for early guilty pleas had been taken into account.

Read more: Scots need to be ‘reassured’ on plan to end short jail terms
“If that offender has pled guilty at an early stage then conventionally he might expect to receive a discount of a third,” he told MSPs on Holyrood's Justice committee.

“That brings the final sentence down to say somewhere between 10 and 12 months which is right into the teeth of the presumption," Lord Turnbull said.

“Offences which might be in that sort of category will include perhaps causing death by careless driving, causing death whilst driving disqualified, possession of indecent photographs of children, possibly even distribution of lower category images.”

Read more: Order published to reduce "ineffective " short term prison sentences

Other crimes which may escape jail include possession of offensive knives or weapons, the judge added, assaults and perhaps even in relation to the 15-18 month period some drugs supply charges, sexual offences and charges of multiple housebreaking.

Assaulting emergency services or police officers could also see offenders escape jail because the Emergency Workers Scotland Act and the Police and Fire Reform Scotland Act carry maximum sentences of 12 months imprisonment.

Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “Victims were already disgusted at the idea of scrapping sentences of less than a year.

The Scottish Government wants to end shorter sentences because they don't tackle re-offending or help rehabilitate offenders, while adding to overcrowding in Scotland's jails.

“The fact this seems to be increasing to 18 months will compound that feeling that they’re being let down by a soft-touch justice system under the SNP. It’s also very concerning to hear that violent criminals who attack police, paramedics and fire-fighters could be let off the hook.

“The SNP needs to think again on this. It’s vital that the justice system keeps ordinary people safe, punishes crime and offers sufficient deterrent to those considering crime."

Spokesperson for the Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:

“It is completely untrue that short prison sentences will be ‘scrapped’.

“The presumption is not a ban - prison will always be the right place for the most serious offenders and those who pose a risk to the public.

“The presumption will only apply in cases where a court has reached a view that a sentence of 12 months or less may be appropriate having taken into account all relevant factors.

“But while Tories in London can acknowledge our approach will make the public safer, Tories in Scotland prefer to fall back on the same tired soundbites.

“A justice system that pushes offenders through a revolving door of short prison sentences helps absolutely nobody – and only makes things worse.

“The Scottish Tories are putting ill-informed posturing ahead of public safety – and it is frankly irresponsible to stoke up public fear about an approach their own colleagues admit will make our streets safer.”