Sentencing Council publishes report following discussions on sentencing people with mental welfare issues

The Scottish Sentencing Council has today published a report following a roundtable discussion it held with stakeholders on the sentencing of people with mental welfare difficulties.

The Council announced in its current business plan that it was interested in exploring this subject as a high proportion of offenders have experienced difficulties with mental health or mental illness.

The discussion with interested stakeholders was held last year to learn more about issues that can arise when people with mental welfare difficulties are sentenced, and the report summarises the views of those who attended.

Among the topics discussed was what the main purpose or purposes of sentencing offenders with mental welfare difficulties should be.

Having regard to the Council’s principles and purposes of sentencing guideline, there was a general agreement that protection of the public, rehabilitation, and giving the offender the opportunity to make amends would be appropriate purposes in the sentencing of offenders with mental welfare issues.

Other topics discussed included:

  • What factors might the court need to consider when sentencing offenders with mental welfare difficulties?
  • What information might the court need to obtain in order to impose an appropriate sentence for such individuals?
  • What might be the features of an appropriate and effective sentence?

Lord Turnbull, Senator member of the Scottish Sentencing Council said: “We would like to thank all those who attended for helping the Council understand more about the current difficulties and challenges in sentencing people with mental welfare issues.

“We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the conversation in what is a very important and challenging area.”

Attendees also discussed improving information sharing between relevant bodies and organisations; improving court reports to give judges more information about relevant disposals and sentencing options; and whether the sentencing of those who have an intellectual or cognitive disability requires a different approach from the sentencing of those who have a personality disorder.

Structured deferred sentences and drug treatment and testing orders were suggested as examples of the type of monitoring and support which might be suitable for some offenders with mental health or welfare difficulties.

Lord Turnbull added: “The discussion was an example of the partnership approach that will be required across the criminal justice system in addressing current concerns. We will take account of the issues raised in the course of the discussion for which the Council has responsibility and share the report with the Scottish Government and other criminal justice organisations to progress the issues which fall out with the Council’s remit.

The Council agreed that further consideration may be warranted in relation to the following areas in particular:

  • the challenges involved in ensuring that courts have sufficient information about any mental health or welfare issues at the point of sentencing;
  • the degree to which the level of culpability may vary across the spectrum of mental disorders; and
  • how to address questions around the availability of suitable disposals for offenders with mental welfare difficulties.

Those who attended and contributed to the discussion included representatives from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Scottish Prison Service, Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland, SAMH, Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, Social Work Scotland, State Hospital at Carstairs as well as members of the judiciary.

The full report is available to view here