The consultation on proposals to strengthen the presumption against short sentences closed on 16 December. We received 63 responses in total, and I record my thanks to everyone who took the time to submit their views on that important issue.
We are carefully considering those responses and will publish a formal analysis in the coming weeks. That analysis will inform our approach to strengthening the current presumption against short sentences, and I intend to set out our plans in due course.
The consultation forms part of our wider commitment to shifting the emphasis of penal policy from ineffective short sentences to a greater use of robust community sentences. That commitment is backed by an additional £4 million for community justice services in the 2016-17 draft Scottish budget.
The nub of the issue is that Governments must neither obstruct nor compromise the freedom of judges to impose a custodial sentence of any length where the judge considers that that is how best to serve the interests of justice and the victim. Will the cabinet secretary guarantee with the same welcome clarity as his colleague Mr Wheelhouse the continuing protection of that freedom?
A presumption is exactly that: it is a presumption. It will be open to sheriffs to determine these matters when the issue is laid before the court. That is the case with the presumption against short sentences of three months. If a sheriff at a particular point believes that a custodial sentence is the most appropriate action that should be taken, that action remains open to them. Any extension of that presumption would mean that sheriffs would continue to have the powers to choose to do so.
I reassure the member that a presumption is exactly that—it is nothing more than a presumption—and sheriffs will continue to have the powers to determine whether to send someone on a custodial sentence should they see fit to do so.