Substantial progress on sentencing guidelines highlighted in Council’s annual report
Substantial progress was made in the development of sentencing guidelines for a range of offences during 2022-23, according to the Council’s Chair, Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk.
Commenting on the Council’s Annual Report 2022-23, which was laid before the Scottish Parliament on 25 October 2023 and published today, Lady Dorrian recognised the importance of the progress made in developing guidelines covering a number of specific offences.
“2022-23 saw a particularly significant achievement for the Council with a public consultation exercise on our first ever offence guideline, which covers the statutory offences of causing death by driving. This was a vital step in ensuring the guideline will be fit for purpose,” said Lady Dorrian.
“Having taken into account the views expressed, we strengthened the guideline in certain key respects as a direct result of issues raised by respondents. Due to the careful and detailed work carried out in 2022-23, we were able to announce our final decisions about the guideline and submit it to the High Court for approval shortly after the period covered by the report. If the guideline is approved, it will be a first for Scotland’s criminal justice system. Just as importantly, we believe that it will also provide clarity for bereaved families and others affected by such cases.”
The Council’s report on the death by driving public consultation exercise is available here.
Lady Dorrian continued: “I am pleased to note that we also made considerable headway with the other guidelines under development, especially those on sexual offences and domestic abuse, which are a priority for the Council given the level of public concern around such offences.”
The report notes that stakeholder engagement took place in relation to draft guidelines on rape and offences involving indecent images of children, paving the way for wider consultation in 2023-24, and that significant progress was made in determining the scope and nature of guidelines on sexual assault and domestic abuse. Development also got underway on a further general guideline on sentence discounting when a person pleads guilty, which is a step that courts are required by law to consider.
Lady Dorrian also highlighted two research projects launched by the Council in early 2023, which seek the views of victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault, and of domestic abuse. She said, “The impact of crime on victims is central to every sentencing decision, as we have made clear in our guidelines on the principles and purposes of sentencing and the sentencing process. It is vital that we continue to learn about the experiences of victims in our ongoing work.”
In addition to the extensive work carried out developing offence guidelines, the annual report highlights activities and key achievements in a variety of areas, including:
- publication of the findings of a number of important research projects, including on the challenges of sentencing individuals with mental health issues; a study of the difficulties in comparing sentencing across different jurisdictions; and a series of literature reviews exploring the law and sentencing practice in relation to domestic abuse, indecent images of children, assault, and fraud
- preparation of a range of educational resources, including videos on the key themes of the sentencing young people guideline, along with a classroom PowerPoint presentation and online lectures, which are available here
- the relaunch of the Council’s blog as “Spotlight on sentencing”, with blogs published during the year covering a range of topics, including the Caledonian System, sentencing domestic abuse in Scotland, supporting offenders with communication needs, and an explanation of how the sex offenders register operates
- a range of stakeholder and public engagement, including the inaugural ‘Four Corners Conference’, which brought together all of the sentencing bodies from the United Kingdom and Ireland to discuss topics of shared interest in each of the jurisdictions
- significant preparatory work resulting in the publication of information for victims and information about sentencing guidelines, and the launches of a newsletter, Spotlight on Sentencing Circular, and a new Facebook page, shortly after the period covered by the report.