Leader: ‘The courts must utilise their powers’

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NEWS today that prosecutors are getting tough on housebreaking by allowing tougher sentences to be handed down is to be 
welcomed.

Prosecuting housebreaking cases on an indictment will mean sheriffs in Edinburgh will be able to potentially impose a jail term of five years.

That may well seem extreme for all but the most extreme cases, but to many victims it will be considered just deserts.

Becoming the victim of a housebreaking is not just an inconvenience, it can have a long-lasting impact for those who see it as a violation. The loss of sentimental property, for instance, can be devastating and the feeling of safety in your home may never be recovered.

In Edinburgh, this happens to around four households every single day.

So if this new initiative by the Crown Office has any impact in driving down the number of break-ins, it is worthy of our 
support.

For it to have that impact, however, the courts must utilise the sentencing powers which are open to them.

Gary McCourt was given 300 hours of community service and a five-year driving ban for causing the death of cyclist Audrey Fyfe. This was despite the fact that the 49-year-old had previously been jailed for causing the death of student George Dalgity, another cyclist, by reckless driving in 1986.

The McCourt case sparked a campaign which has culminated in the Crown Office announcing that it is now to appeal the leniency of the sentence.

That is to be applauded.

Like the housebreaking initiative, the effectiveness of the courts acting as a deterrent to any type of offending behaviour rests in the sentences they are handing down. A five-year sentence is no deterrent if it is never imposed.

In other words, justice has to be seen to be done.