MSPs agree to cut short term jail sentences
Jun 30, 2010 No Comments
Controversial plans to cut the number of short-term jail sentences imposed in Scotland have been approved by MSPs.
The measure, which will introduce a presumption against sentences of up to three months, was voted through in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill at Holyrood.
The Scottish Government was attacked by opposition MSPs who accused ministers of failing to tackle domestic abuse, where offenders often got short jail terms.
The government had initially planned to introduce a presumption against sheriffs imposing six-month jail terms but watered this down to secure Liberal Democrat support.
Ministers said the move, along with tougher community sentences, would reduce reoffending.
MSPs also rejected legislation to introduce mandatory six-month jail terms for anyone caught carrying a knife.
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “This is a major piece of legislation which will bring important reforms to Scotland's justice system. From top to bottom, our justice system is being strengthened and Scotland's communities will be safer and stronger as a result.
"There has been strong support for our proposals among those on the frontline who are successfully combating crime day in day out in Scotland, punishing offenders, and championing the interests of victims and I am pleased to see that this has now been reflected by Parliament voting in favour of our proposals.”
MacAskill had earlier pointed out to the Chamber that UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke had also indicated his support for cutting the number of short sentences elsewhere in the UK, and Cherie Blair, the wife of ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, also praised the SNP's approach on the issue.
Labour justice spokesman Richard Baker said the presumption against short sentences was unfunded, would put too much extra pressure on community sentence bosses, and would take in serious offences like assault.
He added: "Of those who receive custodial sentences for domestic abuse, some 68% receive a sentence of three months or less.”
Tory justice spokesman John Lamont said the decision not to impose mandatory jail sentences for knife carrying sends out the wrong message.
He said: “We strongly believe that the SNP's rejection of tougher sentences for knife crime sends out completely the wrong message. Kenny MacAskill is wrong to say those voting against the Bill do not care about making Scotland safer.”
The Bill will create a new sentencing council to provide guidance to the courts on disposing of criminal cases. The age of criminal responsibility will also rise from eight to 12 and the remand of children in adult prisons will end.