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by Andrew Learmonth
12 October 2021
Tories call for Scotland's worst criminals to be left in prison for the rest of their lives

Tories call for Scotland's worst criminals to be left in prison for the rest of their lives

Scotland’s most dangerous criminals should spend the rest of their natural life in prison, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

Last month, at the Old Bailey, Wayne Couzens, the Met Police officer, who kidnapped, raped and killed 33-year-old Sarah Everard became one of around 60 prisoners in the UK to be given a whole-life sentence, without the prospect of parole. 

However, that option isn't available to the courts in Scotland, where judges handing down a life sentence must set a minimum punishment part of any sentence after which a prisoner will be eligible for release if the Parole Board decides that they will not present an unacceptable risk.

Though while Scottish judges can't issue whole life sentences, they can keep offenders in custody for the rest of their life by handing down lengthy punishment parts which would effectively keep them in jail. 

World's End killer Angus Sinclair, was ordered to spend a minimum of 37 years behind bars when he was sentenced at the age of 69.

Sinclair, who killed teenagers Christine Eadie and Helen Scott after a night out in an Edinburgh pub in 1977, died in Glenochil prison in 2019 at the age of 73.

A previous attempt by the Tories to bring in whole life sentences was rejected by MSPs in 2019, with the SNP, Labour, Greens and LibDems all voting against.

Tory MSP Russell Findlay said it was time for parliament to look again at the sentencing options available to Scottish Court: “It is entirely right for a judge to have the power to impose a whole-life sentence on the police officer who murdered Sarah Everard, meaning that he will never be released.

“If a similar crime occurred in Scotland, a judge would not be allowed to make the same decision.

“Life really should mean life for Scotland’s most dangerous criminals.

"Our proposals would ensure judges could guarantee victims, and wider society, that they would stay locked up.

“Other parties previously rejected this Scottish Conservative proposals but I hope they will now re-think their opposition and work with me to introduce this crucial sentencing option as a matter of urgency.

“All too often the SNP let down victims and put the interest of criminals first.

"The Scottish Conservatives will continue to push for whole-life sentences to be imposed to ensure the worst offenders feel the full force of the law.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Sentencing Council said it "considers that there is presently nothing in legislation or precedent to prevent judges imposing, should it be appropriate, punishment parts which will effectively amount to whole-life terms".

He added: “When people are sentenced to life imprisonment, the judge must, by law, set the punishment part - the minimum time the person will spend in prison before they can be considered for release at all.

"After that minimum time, they will remain in prison unless the Parole Board for Scotland decides that they are safe to be released into the community under lifelong conditions.

"When setting the punishment part of a life sentence, judges can set a period which is likely to exceed the remainder of the prisoner's natural life. 

"This can result in a whole-life sentence.

"The council understands that the courts regard their present powers as adequate; that current sentencing practices suggest that there is no need for any additional powers; and that the present system enables those who are assessed as posing a risk to public safety to be kept in custody.

"While legislative proposals requiring a change in the law are ultimately a matter for the Scottish Parliament, the council is not persuaded that this change is necessary.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “For those that commit the most heinous crimes, it is already the case that Scots law allows the criminal courts to keep offenders in custody for the rest of their life.  

"These exceptional powers have been in place for use by Scotland’s most senior judges in the High Court since the early 2000s and the Scottish Government fully supports courts having these powers.  

"The use of such powers is appropriately for the independent court to determine on a case by case basis."

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Time is right to reform Scotland's exams, says education minister

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