Law and order: Judges to consider rehabilitation when sentencing young offenders in Scotland

Judges will have to take rehabilitation into account as a primary consideration when sentencing young people after a new guideline was approved in a “significant milestone”.

Tuesday, 9th November 2021, 2:37 pm

The Scottish Sentencing Council developed the guideline, which will come into effect for all courts in Scotland from Wednesday January 26 2022, as part of efforts to reduce reoffending among young people.

It recognises that a young person will generally have a lower level of maturity, and a “greater capacity for change and rehabilitation”, than an older person.

The guideline was submitted to the High Court in September and was approved by the Lord Justice General Lord Carloway, Lord Woolman and Lord Pentland at a virtual hearing on Tuesday.

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Sentencing guidelines: Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk.

It will apply to the sentencing of those who are under the age of 25 at the date of their plea of guilty or when a finding of guilt is made against them.

Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk and chairwoman of the council, said: “The guideline explains in a clear and accessible way why a young person should be sentenced differently from a fully mature adult, with rehabilitation as a primary consideration.

“Its approval by the High Court today is a significant milestone which will help to increase understanding and awareness of this complex and challenging area and, by setting out the various matters which should be taken into account when sentencing a young person, will be of assistance to sentencers and practitioners alike.

“It also marks the end of the first phase of the Council’s work. Since the Council was established in 2015, our focus has been on completing a suite of three general guidelines which will set out a high-level framework for sentencing in Scotland.

“The sentencing young people guideline is the final part of that framework and its approval allows us to turn our full attention to guidelines on specific offences.

“The Council is grateful to all those who have contributed to the development of this guideline, from members of the judiciary and others who engaged with us in the early stages of our research and evidence-gathering, to the individuals and organisations who responded to the public consultation.”

The guideline states that the full range of sentencing options remains open to the court, but that a custodial sentence should only be imposed on a young person when the court is satisfied that no other sentence is appropriate.

It says that if a custodial sentence is imposed on a young person, it should be shorter than that which would have been imposed on an older person for the same, or a similar, offence.

Meanwhile, campaigners have been calling for Scottish judges to have the power to sentence inmates to ‘whole life’ tariffs as they do in England and Wales for the worst offenders.

Scottish courts formerly had ‘natural life’ sentences at their disposal but this ended with the introduction of new human rights legislation in 2001 – a move which saw all life-term inmates given an earliest release date on which they would qualify to apply for parole and eventual release on licence.

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