Frequently Asked Questions
The Council is an independent, advisory body which prepares sentencing guidelines for judges. This helps promote consistency in sentencing across Scotland and helps people better understand how judges decide sentences. See About Us.
Research on sentencing was carried out in the early 2000s by an expert group called the Sentencing Commission for Scotland. It suggested setting up a sentencing council to encourage consistency and transparency in sentencing. Based on this, the Scottish Parliament legislated to create the Scottish Sentencing Council in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. The Council was then established in October, 2015.
See Council History.
The Council prepares sentencing guidelines for the courts, promotes greater awareness and understanding of sentencing, and publishes information about sentencing. See About Us.
The Council is made up 12 members:
• six judicial members
• three legal members
• one police member
• a member with knowledge of victims’ issues
• a lay member.
When deciding a sentence, judges must take account of any Scottish sentencing guidelines which are relevant to the case. If they decide not to follow these guidelines, they must give their reasons.
It is up to the Council to decide what format guidelines will take and what topics they will cover. For example, guidelines can be on sentencing levels, particular offences, or particular types of offender. They can also include the circumstances in which they can be departed from. The Council must assess the likely costs and benefits of a guideline and what impact it is likely to have on the criminal justice system in general.
When preparing guidelines, the Council must consult the Scottish Ministers and the Lord Advocate. The Council has further decided to consult widely on all guidelines, including with the public.
The sentencing guidelines prepared by the Sentencing Council for England and Wales do not apply in Scotland. However, in some cases, judges may find them useful when deciding a sentence. This will depend on the particular circumstances of the case and the relevant law.
Offenders who admit their guilt can get a reduction in their sentence of up to one third, depending on how early they plead guilty. Admitting guilt shows that the person has taken responsibility for the offence. An early guilty plea also saves victims and witnesses from having to give evidence, which can be traumatic. It further saves time and costs for all the organisations involved in the criminal justice system, including the police, the prosecution service and the courts. This means more resources can be spent in other ways. For more information see our sentencing page.