Scotland’s new Sentencing Council launched.

Written by
Alan Mairs
Tagged as
sentencing, courts
Pictured left to right are: The Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC; Minister for Justice, Michael Matheson; and Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice Clerk.

Scotland’s new Sentencing Council was yesterday hailed as a milestone in the justice system at an event to mark its official launch.

The Council is a new independent body responsible for preparing guidelines to help ensure a consistent approach to sentencing throughout Scotland and will also work to raise public awareness and understanding of sentencing practice.

Chair of the Council, Lord Carloway, the Lord Justice Clerk; Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, and Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC addressed a gathering of the new Council members and other guests at the event held in Parliament Hall, Edinburgh.

“The Council marks the start of a new era for sentencing in Scotland where expertise from across the criminal justice system and beyond is brought together to shape sentencing principles, and where there is a deeper understanding of the sentencing process and all the necessary complexity that it entails,” said Lord Carloway.

“The Council has a broad membership because it needs a broad perspective. This will help to ensure it has an holistic understanding of the system and of the impact of its work. It will be essential to encourage views from, and to actively listen to, all those with an interest and expertise in the sentencing process.

“The effects of sentences are not limited to their impact on the offender. Sentencing has potential implications for their families; for victims and their families; for communities, and for those involved generally in the administration of justice.

“Other jurisdictions have worked with the media to good effect assisting with and participating in informative press or broadcast features. I will be happy to explore similar, or new, approaches with my fellow Council members.

Mr Matheson said: “Much has been done in recent years to improve the operation of our criminal justice system and the experiences of those who rely on it. The establishment of the Scottish Sentencing Council marks another important milestone in this progress.

“Sentencing can, on occasion, be a difficult and complex process for even experienced sentencers to navigate.

“The Council is key in demystifying the practice of sentencing and helping contribute towards ensuring that everyone feels that they live in a safe, strong, Scotland.”

The Lord Advocate said: “The Council is a very welcome development in our Scottish legal system and one that the Crown is happy to support.

“The Council provides a real opportunity to improve public confidence in our system. Being able to put sentencing in the context of guidelines and principles of sentencing, will, I am sure, assist in improving overall, the understanding of why a particular sentence has been chosen.”

The Council’s role is to 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.

The newly appointed 12 Council members, who represent a balance of expertise and interest, will now determine how best to carry out this work. They have the flexibility to deal with the principles and purposes of sentencing; with sentencing levels; or with sentences for particular types of offence or types of offender.

The Council will also:

  • conduct research into sentencing practice
  • help develop sentencing policy
  • publish information about sentences
  • provide general advice and guidance on sentencing
  • publish guideline judgments (these are court opinions which provide guidance on sentences in similar cases).

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

Sentencing Council website