Jim Eadie: Tougher sentencing winning weapons war

Knife crime has long been a problem in Scotland. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Knife crime has long been a problem in Scotland. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Everyone in society has the right to go about their business without the threat of violence or knife crime.

While most of us will enjoy Christmas and Hogmanay with family and friends we should spare a thought for the emergency staff and taxi drivers who continue to work at this time of year.

It is unacceptable that a taxi driver should be robbed at knifepoint, or that a police officer on duty should be stabbed in broad daylight and yet we have seen incidents of this kind in Edinburgh over the last year.

No young person should lose their life because of a mindless act of violence and no family should have to receive the awful news that a loved one has been attacked, injured or killed and yet we know that such 
tragedies still occur. This has a devastating effect on the victims and their immediate family but it also impacts on the public’s confidence in our criminal justice system.

It is therefore good news that new figures show that the average custodial sentence for handling an offensive weapon in Scotland is up by seven per cent in the last year and is now three times higher than it was in 2005.

The figures also show that convictions for non-sexual crimes of violence have fallen, in particular homicide and attempted murder and serious assault fell by one fifth in the last year. This reflects the long-term fall which there has been in violent crime in recent years.

The Scottish Government has worked with the police, local authorities, community safety partnerships and the courts to ensure that everything possible is done to prevent such attacks from happening. One successful approach has been the No Knives, Better Lives initiative, which has taken the message to young people across Scotland about the dangers of carrying a knife.

In addition the government has been focussed on ensuring that the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice.

Under tough new guidelines introduced by the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland in 2011, first-time knife crime offenders now appear before a jury in the sheriff court rather than being treated as summary cases.

This has helped to drive up conviction rates and has ensured that those convicted of knife crime can now face up to four years in jail.

A more detailed analysis shows that if you are caught carrying a knife or other pointed weapon in Scotland, you are around 45 per cent more likely to receive a custodial sentence than in England and Wales. Furthermore you are likely to receive a sentence that is almost double the length of sentence you would get south of the border. This should serve as a warning to anyone thinking of carrying a weapon on the streets of our towns and cities.

With crimes of handling an offensive weapon down, these latest knife crime figures indicate that the combination of tough enforcement and education is working.

What these latest figures show is that crime in Scotland has fallen to a 40-year low, violent crime is down and that our courts are ensuring that serious offenders receive lengthy prison sentences. It is right that the full force of the law is used to punish anyone found guilty of violent crime. The victims of crime and the wider community are entitled to expect no less.

Jim Eadie is MSP for Edinburgh Southern