Scotland’s first sentencing guideline comes into force

For the first time judges in courts across Scotland will, from today, have to take into account a sentencing guideline when sentencing offenders.

The principles and purposes of sentencing guideline was approved by the High Court of Justiciary on 30 October and applies to all offenders who are sentenced on or after 26 November 2018.

When sentencing an offender, a judge must have regard to any relevant sentencing guidelines in relation to the case. If judges decide not to follow the guidelines, they must state their reasons for not doing so.

The principles and purposes of sentencing have never before been expressly defined in Scotland.

The guideline states that the core principle of sentencing is “fairness and proportionality”, and that this requires a number of supporting principles such as taking into consideration all relevant factors in a case, including the impact on victims and others, and stating the reasons for sentencing decisions as clearly and openly as circumstances permit.

It also sets out some of the purposes which sentencing may seek to achieve, such as rehabilitation, protection of the public, and punishment.

Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk and Chair of the Scottish Sentencing Council, said:

“We believe that this guideline, which sets out the fundamental principles and purposes of sentencing in Scotland for the first time, will have significant benefits to both the courts and the public. In particular, we expect that transparency in sentencing will increase, with more clarity around how particular decisions are reached and the various factors which are taken into account.

“This guideline will also form a strong foundation for our future work in developing further sentencing guidelines, including those which will apply to particular offences.”

This is the first of several guidelines which are currently being developed by the Scottish Sentencing Council, marking a new approach to supporting sentencing consistency and decision making.

Work is underway to develop guidelines relating to the sentencing process, sentencing young people, causing death by driving, and environmental and wildlife offences. In addition, the Council recently announced its intention to begin the development of guidelines on sexual offences and sentence discounting in its 2018-21 work programme.