10 facts about the sentencing young people guideline
The sentencing young people guideline came into effect on 26 January 2022 after being approved by the High Court of Justiciary, Scotland’s highest criminal court.
It applies in cases where the person being sentenced is 24 or under and reflects the need for a more individualistic approach when sentencing young people, giving consideration to their level of maturity.
Here are ten key facts about the guideline:
- The guideline applies to those aged 24 or under at the time they are found, or plead, guilty.
- It aims to reduce reoffending and is based on wide-ranging research on what works to reduce criminal behaviour among young people.
- It is grounded in extensive scientific evidence from around the world on brain development which shows that young people may not reach full maturity until around 25. This means they:
- are generally less able to exercise good judgement
- are more vulnerable to negative influences like peer pressure or exploitation by others
- may be less able to think about the consequences of their actions
- may take more risks
- The guideline states that the court should make sure it has enough information to assess the maturity of the young person to help it identify and impose the most appropriate sentence. Age alone should not determine maturity.
- All sentencing options – including imprisonment – remain open to the court under the guideline.
- However, the nature and duration of a sentence imposed on a young person should be different to that which might be imposed on an older person. If a custodial sentence is imposed, it should be shorter.
- Rehabilitation is a primary consideration under the guideline because evidence shows that young people have greater potential for change, but the court can consider any other purpose of sentencing it thinks appropriate.
- Prior to the guideline, the law already made clear that young people aged under 21 could only be sent to prison if no other option was suitable. This also applies to people aged 21 and over who have not been in prison before, and all offenders if the sentence is likely to be 12 months or less. The guideline has not changed this.
- The consideration of the harm caused to victims is not changed by the guideline and remains one of the most important things a judge will take into account in a sentencing decision.
- The guideline is guidance. This means that judges must have regard to it but can decide not to follow the guideline if they provide their reasons for doing so.
You can read more about the guideline here.
Videos on the guideline's key themes can be viewed here.
By law, all of our guidelines must be reviewed. The Council's approach to reviewing its guidelines, including the sentencing young people guideline, is set out here.