The Scottish Government has announced the establishment of a new Scottish Sentencing Council, which will begin operation in October, with the duty of promoting consistency and transparency in sentencing practice, developing sentencing policy and encouraging better understanding of sentences across Scotland. The SSC will also be responsible for producing sentencing guidelines for the judiciary.
This is long overdue.
Back in 1924, Lord Hewart, an English Lord Chief Justice, said: “Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”
Clear and concise reporting on the affairs of the court system is an important part of this, as well as the public’s ability to watch from the public benches.
But our court system must also make sense to ordinary people.
And too often it doesn’t.
Today, we report on a 53-year-old man, Andrew Cowan, jailed for 12 months after pleading guilty to making a five-year-old girl perform sex acts on him.
The girl may well be scarred for many years from this appalling breach of trust. Perhaps for life.
Yet Cowan will be walking free again in just six months under automatic early release, having been given a jail sentence of just 12 months. The Scottish Conservatives have described the sentence as “just another woeful example of our soft-touch justice system at work”.
Yesterday, we reported on how a Scottish Government official secretly filmed under the skirts of random women at Waverley station. Despite not coming into physical contact with any of them, he was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
In 2013, Gary McCourt was given only a community sentence after knocking down and killing a cyclist, even though he had killed another cyclist in Edinburgh years before.
These sentences don’t add up to ordinary people. The quicker the SSC gets into its stride, the better.