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16 May 2019, 09:32 | Updated: 16 May 2019, 09:34
Plans to develop multiple guidelines for the sentencing of people convicted in a range of sexual offence cases have been announced by the Scottish Sentencing Council.
The body will begin by focusing on court cases involving rape, sexual assault, and indecent images of children.
The Council said the work is being prioritised over other areas of focus and comes after it sought a wide range of views from the likes of the judiciary, victim support organisations and MSPs.
The development comes amid an increase in the volume of sexual offence cases coming before the Scottish courts in recent years.
The Council last year committed to developing guidelines on sexual offences, and has now confirmed its intention to produce multiple guidelines on specific sexual offences, rather than one guideline covering all offences.
The proposals were confirmed by Scotland's second most senior judge, the Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian in a letter to Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf.
Lady Dorrian, who also chairs the Council, wrote: "Given the wide-ranging nature of sexual offending, the Council has decided to develop multiple guidelines focusing on particular sexual offences, rather than a single guideline covering all offences.
"This will allow each topic to be given in-depth consideration, and for the first guidelines on sexual offending to be produced more quickly.
"Taking into account the information we have gathered to date, the Council has decided to begin its work on sexual offences by developing sentencing guidelines in relation to rape, sexual assault, and indecent images of children."
The decision to prioritise guidelines on sexual offences means the Council is having to delay the development of guidance on environmental and wildlife crime.
Lady Dorrian cautioned that it would take time for the sexual offences guidelines to be developed.
"We recognise the considerable interest in sentencing sexual offences, and we have listened carefully to views expressed by the public, judiciary, victim support organisations, the Scottish Parliament and others in considering how best to proceed," she said.
"Our priorities are always under review as new areas of work develop and, on balance, we consider that guidelines on sexual offences should take precedence over certain other areas of work at present.
"Specifically, we intend to deprioritise the development of a guideline on environmental and wildlife offences during the current business plan period, in order to allow more resources to be allocated to work on sexual offences.
"However, our plans for issuing guidelines on the sentencing process, the sentencing of young people, and causing death by driving remain unchanged.
"While we recognise the desire to have sentencing guidelines on sexual offences in place as quickly as possible, as I have noted previously the potential impact of guidelines which have not been properly considered and tested would be considerable, both for individual cases and for the justice system as a whole.
"Taking the necessary time to get guidelines right is vital, especially when dealing with a wide ranging, sensitive, and complex area such as sexual offending."
Judges and sheriffs have to take official guidelines into account when sentencing offenders in a relevant case.
Guidelines are put in place with a view to ensuring sentences are consistent, fair and proportionate.