Question Time — Scottish Executive — General Questions – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:40 am on 21st June 2007.
To ask the Scottish Executive when it will bring forward proposals on sentencing. (S3O-311)
There are a number of factors to be considered. I announced to Parliament on 6 June 2007 that we are embarking on an extensive review of community sentences. At the same time, we are looking at how to manage custodial sentences to reduce the risk posed by the more serious offenders when they are released and to help them address their offending behaviour. Our plans must also take account of judicial discretion in sentencing in individual cases. That is important work, and we want to consider options carefully and seek Parliament's views before finally deciding on the way ahead.
The Scottish National Party manifesto promised to introduce a presumption against sending to prison those who are sentenced to less than six months. Does the minister appreciate that that would mean that a significant number of men who are convicted of domestic violence offences could avoid prison because of SNP policy, thereby possibly threatening the safety of many women? Will the SNP abandon that simplistic approach and ensure that those who perpetrate acts of domestic violence face the full force of the law, or does the minister regard those men as the flotsam and jetsam of society?
Those who perpetrate domestic violence deserve the punishment that the courts correctly mete out. This country of ours requires a coherent prison policy. We need to move away from serious and dangerous offenders not being incarcerated when they should be while those who have been described as the flotsam and jetsam are incarcerated at huge cost to the
Does the cabinet secretary agree that any plans to reduce short-term prison sentences should be predicated not on the need to empty prisons and institutions, but on the recognition that public safety is a priority? Does he agree that the fact that so many short-term prison sentences are being imposed is clear and tangible evidence that the existing alternatives are simply not working?
I have a great deal of sympathy with that view: it is clear that far too many sheriffs impose short sentences that they know will be of little benefit to the individual. They do so out of frustration, not out of desire, and because they believe that there is no realistic alternative. That is why it is the Government's priority to ensure that sheriffs have options and alternatives. Indeed, options should be available not only to sheriffs; the Crown Office's view is that as well as being able to impose a fiscal fine, it should be able to use a method of ensuring that those who transgress and who should pay back our communities have the opportunity to do so by visible work and by returning to the communities and removing the harm they created.
I sympathise fully with the member's point that we must ensure that we provide appropriate alternatives. That is why, on sentencing, as well as putting measures on the statute book, we desire to ensure that measures that are already on the statute book operate in practice, which in many instances is not the case. We must ensure that the array of community sentences is expanded to provide assistance to sheriffs and the Crown Office.