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Public invited for views on first sentencing guideline

1 August 2017

Members of the public are being invited to contribute to the development of Scotland’s first sentencing guideline for the criminal 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.

Although some relevant guidance already exists in the form of court decisions in particular cases, this will be the first time that a comprehensive definition is provided for the principles underlying sentencing decisions and the purposes they seek to achieve.

Set up in 2015, the Council includes judicial, legal and lay members and acts as an independent advisory body to promote consistency in sentencing across Scotland, including through the publishing of guidelines for the courts.

Its new draft guideline sets out an overarching principle of "fairness and proportionality" and a series of supporting principles which contribute to this, such as:

  • 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 openly;
  • people should be treated equally, without discrimination.

The draft also outlines the purposes sentencing may seek to achieve, such as:

  • punishment;
  • reduction of crime (including through rehabilitation);
  • reflecting society’s disapproval;
  • giving offenders an opportunity to make amends.

In preparing the draft guideline, the Council carried out background research, consulting widely with judges across Scotland, considering previous research both in Scotland and other jurisdictions, and engaging with interested organisations. The draft has been designed to assist judges in court and to help the public better understand how sentences are decided.

The consultation asks people to comment both on the principles and purposes identified, and on how easy the guideline is to understand.

Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, who chairs the Council, commented: “The fundamental principles and purposes of sentencing have never before been expressly defined in Scotland. We believe that creating 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.

“I would urge anyone with an interest in how sentences are decided and in the overall aims of sentencing in Scotland to take this opportunity to participate in our public consultation."

She added that the Council would welcome views on topics for future guidelines, and on other aspects of the Council's work.

The Council is also developing general guidelines relating to the sentencing process – including the steps taken by judges when deciding sentences and the different factors they take into account – and on the sentencing of young people. Preparatory work is also being undertaken in relation to offence specific guidelines relating to causing death by driving, and wildlife and environmental crime.

Its website contains a comprehensive resource explaining how judges decide a sentence, including videos and an interactive scenario that lets people choose what happens next in a realistic court case, and then select the sentence they would give if they were the judge.

Click here to take part in the public consultation. The deadline for submissions is noon on 27 October 2017.


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