Council considers Business Plan 2018-21

The Council was established more than two years ago and will be issuing its second Business Plan, covering the period 2018-21, in around 9 months. The Council is now beginning its consideration of potential topics to include in its work programme for the next Business Plan period, taking into account progress to date and the lessons learned in its work so far. 

Progress to date

Since the Council’s establishment, we have been developing our approach to, and pursuing, our three statutory objectives:

  • to promote consistency in sentencing across Scotland
  • to assist in the development of sentencing policy
  • to promote greater awareness and understanding of sentencing. 

A key part of the Council’s role in promoting consistency is to prepare sentencing guidelines for the Scottish courts. 

In our first Business Plan, we announced that our initial focus would be on the development of a general set of guidelines on the principles and purposes of sentencing, and on the sentencing of young people. 

Work on the principles and purposes of sentencing guideline is progressing well. The Council recently carried out a public consultation on a draft guideline, responses to which are now being considered, and we expect that a final guideline will be sent to the High Court for approval around mid-2018. 

It had been our initial intention that this first guideline, being of general application, would also include a description of the sentencing process. However, during the development stages we decided it would be more appropriate to prepare these as separate but complementary guidelines. The Council is therefore currently working on a guideline setting out the sentencing process, including the various steps taken by judges and factors which may be taken into account. We expect to consult publicly on this guideline during 2018. Our work on the sentencing of young people is at an early stage and, following a successful stakeholder conference earlier this year, we are in the process of carrying out further research to inform our approach.  

At the same time, we are beginning to consider the first offence specific guidelines. Preparatory work is currently being carried out in relation to causing death by driving and environment and wildlife offences to inform the development of guidelines in these areas over the coming years.

In all of its work, the Council is determined to take an evidence-based approach, involving extensive research and consultation. While we are eager to maintain momentum, we consider it vital to take the time to understand current practice, to look at what works and why, and to listen to a range of organisations and individuals to learn how sentencing decisions affect them and the people they represent.    

Over the past two years, we have engaged with academic and research communities through a variety of meetings, visits, conferences and presentations, and have established links with colleagues from across the justice system both in Scotland and in other jurisdictions. For example, following the success of the conference on the sentencing of young people earlier this year, we are now exploring the possibility of holding similar events relating to other topics in the Council’s work programme, to enable us to learn from those with expertise across the justice system and beyond.

This sort of research and engagement is crucial in ensuring that the guidelines produced by the Council are well informed, evidence-based, and helpful to both the public and the judiciary. As a result of this approach, we expect that work on a number of topics will take longer than originally anticipated to complete. In particular, guidelines on the sentencing process and on the sentencing of young people – which are of significant importance both in their own right and in informing the Council’s future work – are unlikely to be finalised during the current business plan period. Similarly, the Council’s first offence-specific guidelines, on causing death by driving and environmental and wildlife offences, are likely to be completed during the second half of the 2018-21 period, again reflecting the research and engagement required in these areas. 

In addition to our work on developing sentencing guidelines and as reflected in our 2016/17 Annual Report, we have made good progress in pursuing our other statutory objectives, particularly in relation to promoting public awareness and understanding of sentencing. This includes the development of a series of introductory videos, interactive case studies, and comprehensive and accessible information pages. We consider this work to be extremely important and expect it to continue to grow over time.

Looking ahead to 2018-21

Over the coming months, the Council will be considering potential topics to include in its second Business Plan, which will cover the period September 2018-21.

As noted above, we expect certain work contained in the first Business Plan to continue into the next period. However, we keep our Business Plan under regular review and will also consider what new topics might be included in our future work programme. As always, we welcome views from interested parties as to what the Council should focus on, both in terms of sentencing guidelines and its wider role, and we will be engaging with stakeholders to help inform our consideration. In preparing our new Business Plan, we will also be consulting with the Scottish Ministers, the Lord Advocate, and the Lord Justice General, as required by the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010.