THE people of Scotland are to be allowed for the first time to have their say on sentencing guidelines to be followed by High Court judges, sheriffs and justices of the peace in criminal cases.

The Scottish Sentencing Council yesterday announced that the public is to have a say in the development of Scotland’s first sentencing guideline which will influence the way offenders are sentenced in Scotland’s courts. The deadline for submissions, which can be made online, is noon on October 27.

The council stated: “We have launched a public consultation on the first draft guideline, which sets out the principles and purposes of sentencing for all offences.

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“Although some relevant guidance already exists in the form of court decisions in particular cases, this will be the first time that a comprehensive definition is provided for the principles underlying sentencing decisions and the purposes they seek to achieve.

“The draft guideline sets out an overarching principle of ‘fairness and proportionality’ and a series of supporting principles which contribute to this.”

Some of the supporting principles are that similar offences should be treated in a similar manner, that sentences should be no more severe than necessary, that reasons for sentencing decisions should be stated clearly and openly and that people should be treated equally, without discrimination.

The draft guideline also outlines the purposes sentencing may seek to achieve. For example punishment and reduction of crime – including through rehabilitation – as well as reflecting society’s disapproval and giving offenders an opportunity to make amends.

The council’s statement added: “In order to prepare the draft guideline, we have carried out significant background research, consulting widely with judges across Scotland, considering previous research on this topic both in Scotland and in other jurisdictions, and engaging with interested organisations.

“The draft guideline was designed to assist judges in court and to help the public better understand how sentences are decided. The consultation asks people to comment both on the principles and purposes identified, and on how easy the guideline is to understand.”

Scotland’s second highest judge Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk and Chair of the Sentencing Council, said: “The fundamental principles and purposes of sentencing have never before been expressly defined in Scotland. We believe that creating this guideline will have significant benefits both to the public and the courts, increasing consistency and transparency in sentencing.

“We are committed to taking an open and transparent approach to developing sentencing guidelines and the public consultation process is a vital part of that – we cannot complete our work in isolation.

“I would urge anyone with an interest in how sentences are decided and in the overall aims of sentencing in Scotland to take this opportunity to participate in our public consultation.

“We welcome views and comment on all of our work, including on suggested topics for future guidelines.”

The council is also currently developing general guidelines relating to the sentencing process, including the steps taken by judges when deciding sentences and the different factors they take into account, and on the sentencing of young people. Work is also under way on guidelines for specific offences relating to causing death by driving and wildlife and environmental crime.

The Sentencing Council is independent of government.