Scottish Sentencing Council Gets Underway

19 October 2015, 07:12 | Updated: 19 October 2015, 07:13

A new body aiming to raise public understanding of how courts determine sentences comes into existence today.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the creation of the Scottish Sentencing Council was "extremely important'' for the criminal justice system as he welcomed the official launch.

Scotland's second most senior judge Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice Clerk, will chair the body which will include other legal members along with a serving police officer and a victims' representative.

"The council is something entirely new for Scotland,'' said Lord Carloway.

"Sentencing is much more complex than it sometimes appears - there can be many different factors involved. The council will work to raise awareness and understanding of sentencing practice - not only for our justice partners but for the wider public - helping to build confidence in our justice system.

"I expect the council to take Scotland into a new era, in which we pursue a more principled approach to sentencing with improved consistency. This will be at the heart of our programme.''

The body will prepare guidelines, along with their likely effects, for approval by the High Court. In sentencing offenders, the Scottish courts must take these guidelines, if applicable, into account - or give reasons for not doing so.

It will also help to develop sentencing policy, conduct research into sentencing practice and provide general advice and guidance.

The High Court, new Sheriff Appeal Court and Scottish ministers can request the council to prepare or review sentencing guidelines on any matter.

Mr Matheson said: "We know that sentencing can be an extremely complicated and emotive issue which is why we want to provide greater clarity and openness around why and how sentences are decided.

"While the independence of Scotland's judiciary of course remains a fundamental part of the Scottish legal system, as does judicial discretion in individual sentencing decisions, the council will help to ensure transparency and consistency in all sentencing decisions made in Scotland, as well as helping the public better understand the sentencing process.''

It is made up of 12 members including, amongst others, Assistant Chief Constable Val Thomson, Sheriff Principal Ian R Abercrombie QC and John Scott QC.

Council member Sue Moody, who has knowledge of victims' issues, said its establishment was "good news for the victims of crime in Scotland''.

"It will help to demystify sentencing for the public, and will ensure that the interests and needs of victims are taken into account when sentencing guidelines are prepared,'' she said.

"This is an important opportunity for victims to contribute their views.''