My three years on the Scottish Sentencing Council - John Scott QC
As the advert has now appeared for the next solicitor member of the Scottish Sentencing Council, I thought that it might be useful for colleagues to hear a little about the work of the Council in the last three years from the perspective of the outgoing solicitor member.
As the council was a new body, I was not entirely sure what to expect. After a while, the similarities in committees become more striking than their differences, not least on many occasions in their membership.
The Scottish Sentencing Council stands out nonetheless as being very different from normal committees while sharing some of the characteristics with which many will be familiar. In particular, the mix of judiciary, practitioners and lay members makes for stimulating discussion. There is also an impressive secretariat which engages well with council members and contributes to the shaping and implementation of our ideas.
In the first incarnation of the council, it would have been easy in some ways to simply sit down and start producing guidelines. Indeed, some may have expected us to do so. Such an approach would have carried many risks, especially the difficulty in changing course if we set off in a wrong direction.
Instead, most obvious from an early stage in our work was the unanimous ambition of being evidence-led and seeking wide consultation on our work. Being evidence-led is the stated ambition of many organisations. Our commitment to it can be seen in the fact that our first guideline will only just have completed its passage to the High Court towards the very end of the council’s first three years of operation.
During that time, we have consulted widely with interested parties and organisations, the judiciary and the public. Our approach to some matters has changed as a result of consultation. While the council will be unable to satisfy the demands of all, especially when it comes to offence-specific guidelines, we hope that through the council’s work there will be a greater understanding of what happens in the sentencing process and sentencing in individual cases. That is another important part of our statutory responsibilities.
The time commitment for being a council member amounts to approximately 12 days a year, between full council meetings and meetings of the various committees of the council. In addition, there is a considerable amount of reading. (One tip - trying to operate without paper is a good idea to save on excessive “humphing”). In general, at least a full day is required to be able to read all the papers for a full council meeting. Given the constraints of time and the strategic and operational decisions which come to council, there is really no other way for the council to function.
I have enjoyed my time on council. Apart from the full council, I have been involved in the Communications Committee and the committee looking at the sentencing of young people. The work has been fascinating and I look forward to seeing how it translates into practice. I can recommend the role to anyone interested in our courts and the development of the policy and practice of sentencing in Scotland. I am happy to discuss the role further if you are reading this and think you might be interested.