Assisting Policy Development

Assisting policy development: the role of the Scottish Sentencing Council


One of the Scottish Sentencing Council’s statutory objectives under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 is to seek to assist the development of policy in relation to sentencing.

We consider this role to be distinct from the policy work the Council carries out in creating sentencing guidelines. While guideline development focuses on sentencing practice – considering what sentences should be imposed in certain circumstances – the Council’s role in assisting policy development is potentially wider.

For example, this may include being asked to provide views on proposals for legislative change (perhaps by a parliamentary committee or other body), to comment on the operation of existing legislation, or to carry out research or other work to assist in the development of new policy initiatives.

In determining whether to act on any such requests to comment on policy proposals or carry out substantive work in relation to policy development, we will consider a number of factors:


i) Significance and current state of development

We view the Council’s role as offering expertise and assistance to inform and strengthen the development of policy by Government and others, rather than taking a leading role in developing and driving new policy. As a result, we do not generally anticipate either leading on the development of new policy initiatives, particularly those requiring legislative change, or commenting in detail on significant proposals which are at a very early stage of development.

We consider that the Council’s involvement may be most appropriate where policy proposals are under detailed and active development by Government or other bodies, or the proposals are relatively narrow in scope and relate primarily to sentencing practice.

It may also be appropriate for the Council to be involved at an early stage with regard to its statutory objective to seek to promote greater awareness and understanding of sentencing. In particular, this may be helpful in ensuring that discussion around relevant policy proposals can proceed on a suitably informed basis.


ii) Alignment with current business plan

The Council is required to publish a business plan setting out its main areas of work for each 3 year period. Any requests to carry out substantive work will be considered in the context of the current business plan and may be declined if these are not aligned with ongoing and planned work. With limited resources, taking on significant unplanned work could have a serious impact on the development of sentencing guidelines and the promotion of sentencing consistency, which we consider to be the Council’s primary function.


iii) Source of request

While all requests for policy assistance will be considered, priority will be given to those by Government, Parliament, and the courts.

In addition to external requests, it is likely that policy matters will arise in the course of the Council’s work which we may wish to highlight to other organisations; for instance, research findings, examples of best practice, or potential difficulties in the operation of current legislation. We will consider such matters as they arise.