Scottish Sentencing Council revamps the research section of its website as two new reports are published

The Scottish Sentencing Council is today publishing two reports on sentence discounting and environmental and wildlife crime, as part of its work on developing sentencing guidelines in both these areas.

In addition, it is today revamping the research section of its website in order to make it easier for people to access the reports which inform the work of the Council.

Sentence discounting

Sentence discounting is the term commonly given to the practice of reducing a sentence when an accused pleads guilty. In Scotland, the court is required by law to consider applying a reduction in these circumstances.

A literature review by Dr Jay Gormley, Dr Rachel McPherson and Professor Cyrus Tata of the Centre for Law, Crime & Justice, The Law School, University of Strathclyde, examines how sentence discounting,  works both in Scotland and in other jurisdictions around the world.

Among other things, the review considers the available evidence on the underlying rationale for sentence discounting (a feature common to most jurisdictions), the level of guidance available to sentencers, and the effects of discounting on public confidence.

In particular, the authors note evidence pointing to a lack of public support for discounting which might be improved by improving public information on sentencing practice. The review suggests that there is a need for higher quality information to be made available so as to inform understanding of court practice in this area, the factors that influence plea decisions and the specific effects of sentence discounting on plea decisions.


Environmental and Wildlife Crime

Dr Antonio Cardesa-Salzmann and Donald Campbell at the University of Strathclyde conducted a review to summarise existing academic, legal and statistical work on the sentencing of environmental and wildlife offences.

The review highlights the long history of the roots of both types of offence in Scottish criminal law with the main aim of criminalising activity being to prevent harm (rather than to punish). It discusses the tensions arising from the fact that some level of harmful activity is generally accepted by society - licensed hunting, for example - and activity that has been made illegal.

It notes a perception that penalties imposed in England and Wales for environmental offences are higher than those given in Scotland but also highlights recent Scottish cases with significant penalties, including a civil case attracting the highest fine in the UK to date The authors suggest that although it is difficult to identify trends in the sentencing of these offences because of the low numbers of cases (the Scottish jurisdiction is small and there is a resultant lack of statistical data) there may be a lack of consistency which clear guidance could address.

Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk and Chair of the Scottish Sentencing Council said: “The Council is grateful to the authors of these reports for their considered and informative reports.

“In relation to sentence discounting, which has been the subject of parliamentary debate in recent months, the literature suggests complexities in how it and other factors operate to encourage guilty pleas. The Council will be giving that question particular consideration in the development of a guideline as well as how it might contribute to improving public knowledge around discounting and sentencing practice more widely. 

“The environment and wildlife crime review highlights difficulties in obtaining data on sentencing for these offences, given their few numbers. The Council will therefore need to give careful consideration to how it gathers further evidence on practice in these areas.”

The reports have been published on a revamped Research and Engagement section of the website to make it easier for people to access all research reports in one place.

The Council conducts a broad range of research and engagement activities. All research reports, including reviews of existing academic literature on a topic, focus group studies on specific offences, and other sentencing related work will now be published on our new ‘Research Publications’ page.

These reports include work undertaken by the Council’s research team, as well as work commissioned from independent contractors, and details of the draft impact assessments which must accompany sentencing guidelines. They have previously been made available on the website but visitors will now be able to easily view in one place the full range of research work carried out by, or on behalf of, the Council. 

The Council also undertakes informal data gathering and evidence collection through engagement with criminal justice stakeholders and academics. Where appropriate, the Council produces and publishes short feedback reports on these sessions for its reference during the guideline creation process. For transparency, these will now be published on a dedicated ‘Engagement reports’ page.

Lady Dorrian added: “The findings of both reviews published today will be useful in the further consideration of sentencing guidelines and contain knowledge that will also be valuable to practitioners and policymakers alike. We are pleased to be able to present them on our redesigned and more accessible research webpages and will be proactive in sharing the findings with those with an interest. ”


The new research webpages are available to view here

New penalties for wildlife crimes have now been prescribed by the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020.

The sentence discounting report was written prior to the Presumption Against Short Periods of Imprisonment (Scotland) Order 2019 coming in to force. This extended the Presumption Against Short Sentences from 3 months to 12 months.

The Council’s work on a guideline dealing with environmental and wildlife offences was paused in light of the Scottish paused in light of proposed new penalties for wildlife crimes, and to allow greater priority to be given to guidelines dealing with sexual offences.

More information on the Council’s latest work and current work programme can be found in its 2018-2021 Business Plan and 2019-20 Annual Report