Scottish Sentencing Council launches public consultation on sentencing guidelines for Scottish courts

Written by Jenni Davidson on 1 August 2017 in News

The public is being asked for feedback on how offenders are sentenced by Scottish courts

Scottish Sentencing Council logo - Image credit: Scottish Sentencing Council

The Scottish Sentencing Council (SSC) has launched a consultation on draft guidelines for how criminal offences are sentenced by Scottish courts.

The guidance is designed to help judges and the public better understand how sentences are decided.

This will be the first time that comprehensive guidelines have been produced giving the principles underlying sentencing decisions and what purposes the sentences are intended to achieve.

As well as setting out an ‘overarching principle’ of fairness and proportionality, the new guidelines have a number of ‘supporting principles’.

These include that similar offences should be treated in a similar way, sentences should be no more severe than necessary, the reasons for sentencing decisions should be stated clearly and that everyone should be treated equally.


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The guidance also sets out the possible purposes of different sentences, whether that is punishment, reduction of crime through rehabilitation, making amends to society or reflecting society’s disapproval.

The consultation, which runs until 27 October, asks the public to comment on whether they agree with the principles and purposes and whether the guidelines are clear and accurate.

The council has also created a web resource explaining how judges decide a sentence, which includes videos and an interactive scenario that lets people choose what happens next in a court case and then select the sentence they would give.

The consultation comes as HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Liberal Democrats this week called for a presumption against short-term prison sentences of less than 12 months.

Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk and Chair of the Scottish Sentencing Council, said: “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.

“We welcome views and comment on all of our work, including on suggested topics for future guidelines.”

As a companion to this guidance on the principles and purpose of sentencing, the SSC will develop separate guidelines on the actual process of deciding a sentence and the factors – such as seriousness and nature of the offence and the effect of any aggravating or mitigating factors – that are taken in to account when choosing sentences.

It also plans to produce specific guidance on the sentencing of young people.

In addition, the SSC is undertaking preparatory work towards offence-specific guidelines for causing death by driving and wildlife and environmental crime.

The SSC is an independent advisory body made up of judges, legal professionals and lay members.

It was set up in October 2015 to promote consistency in sentencing across Scotland.

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