Sentencing consultation ‘is long overdue’, says campaigners

Sentencing consultation long overdue says campaigners. Picture: David Cheskin.
Sentencing consultation long overdue says campaigners. Picture: David Cheskin.
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Campaigners have welcomed the launch of a consultation which will allow the public to have a say in the sentences handed down by Scotland’s courts.

The Scottish Sentencing Council is launching a public consultation on its first draft guideline, which sets out the principles and purposes of sentencing for all offences.

Victim Support Scotland said the move was “long overdue”.

The council – made up of judicial, legal and lay members – was set up as an independent advisory body to promote consistency in sentencing across Scotland. Preparing guidelines for the courts is an essential part of its work.

The draft guideline sets out an overarching principle of “fairness and proportionality” and a series of supporting principles which contribute to this; namely that similar offences should be treated in a similar manner, sentences should be no more severe than necessary, reasons for sentencing decisions should be stated clearly and people should be treated equally.

In preparing the draft document, the council said it has carried out research, consulted with judges across Scotland and engaged with other interested organisations.

Council chair Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, said: “The fundamental principles and purposes of sentencing have never been expressly defined in Scotland. We believe this guideline will have significant benefits both to the public and the courts, increasing consistency and transparency in sentencing.

“We are committed to taking an open and transparent approach to developing sentencing guidelines and the public consultation process is a vital part of that – we cannot complete our work in isolation.”

Alan McCloskey, director of operations for Victim Support Scotland, welcomed the move.

He said: “The public get confused about sentences that are applied and the decisions that are made. Transparency is one of the things we think has been missing from some of the decisions made by judges which the public have found baffling.

“People don’t realise that once a sentence is handed out, there will automatically be discounts that are applied.

“We very much welcome the consultation and would encourage the public to get involved and have their say in informing how things move forward in Scotland because it’s been long overdue.”

A spokesperson for the Faculty of Advocates added: “The publishing of guidelines giving rise to greater transparency in sentencing is a positive development, and we welcome initiatives to boost public knowledge and understanding of the process. Ensuring that sentences are fair and proportionate serves the wider public interest, and we support measures to help achieve that.”