Specific offence guidelines including domestic abuse offences, sexual offences and causing death by driving lead the next phase of the work of the Scottish Sentencing Council, set out in its 2021-24 Business Plan, published today.
Having completed its suite of general guidelines which apply to all offences in Scotland, the Council will focus during the plan period on:
- domestic abuse, where the range of offending has recently been extended by legislation which also requires consideration to be given to specific matters when sentencing;
- sexual offences, which account for a high proportion of sentencing particularly in the High Court, often involving complex circumstances;
- death by driving offences, a matter of "significant public concern" presenting difficult assessments with varying levels of culpability in relation to the serious harm caused; and
- environmental and wildlife offences, where "the harm and culpability involved might be quite different from the majority of criminal offences" and there may be significant public policy issues for the court to consider.
In addition, work will continue on a guideline on sentence discounting where a guilty plea has been tendered, a topic which "presents significant opportunities to improve public understanding of sentencing and to assist with predictability".
With members drawn from a broad range of criminal justice organisations and every tier of the judiciary, and the ability to carry out targeted research on sentencing matters, the Council has also indicated its desire to increase activity in pursuit of its statutory objective to assist with policy development and to help ensure that proposals relating to sentencing are fully considered and practicable.
When resources allow, it plans to carry out research and engagement in relation to the sentencing of those with mental health and welfare issues.
An innovative consultative exercise with sheriffs earlier this year resulted in the identification of barriers to, and opportunities to improve, judicial confidence in community sentencing. The Council will also carry out a range of projects specifically designed to raise public awareness and understanding of sentencing, under a three year communications and engagement strategy.
Carrying out its plans in full will be dependent on the outcome of the Scottish Government's spending review and future decisions on the Council’s budget.
Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk and chair of the Council commented: "Having now established a general framework for guidelines, we will also increase our activity in pursuit of our statutory objectives to assist with policy development and to promote awareness and understanding of sentencing. Knowledge and understanding is critical to public confidence and it is our hope and desire that our efforts in this area will have longstanding benefits in this regard."