Responsibility for the development of sentencing guidelines lies with the independent Scottish Sentencing Council. Prior to introduction, all sentencing guidelines are approved by the High Court. The Sentencing Council has a statutory duty to periodically review the sentencing guidelines that it produces. As with the work of the council more generally, the independent nature of that process is fundamental.
As I have already made clear, as part of my new responsibilities, I intend to meet the chair of the council to discuss its important work, including how the council plans to keep its published guidelines under review.
Community service for child rape is obscene, and similar sentences are being passed across Scotland because of the sentencing quango created by the Scottish National Party Government, including for a 22-year-old hit-and-run driver who killed a child, a 22-year-old who scarred his teenage girlfriend for life, a 20-year-old who almost killed a police officer, and a 19-year-old sex offender who preyed on 28 underage girls. Yet victims’ voices are—quite literally—not being heard.
When the new cabinet secretary meets the chair of the
Scottish Sentencing Council, will she ensure that the vacancy for a victims representative is filled immediately?
I can reassure Mr Findlay that the recruitment of a victims representative for the Sentencing Council is well under way. There was an earlier recruitment round, which was unsuccessful; I can assure him that the recruitment process is now at an advanced stage.
Mr Findlay will be well aware that, as justice secretary, it would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment about individual offenders or indeed about individual sentences, bearing in mind that this Parliament—in an act that all parties supported—passed the judiciary and courts legislation which sets out that we all, as ministers and members of the Scottish Parliament, have to uphold the independence of the Scottish judiciary.
It may well be of some use to Mr Findlay if I inform him that, with respect to some of the most serious offences, such as rape, 98 per cent of convictions for rape across all age groups result in a custodial sentence and that, with reference to young people, since the implementation of the sentencing guidelines, nearly 1,000 under-25s were incarcerated in 2022.
The cabinet secretary has gone into some detail about the independence of the Sentencing Council, and I understand that it consulted a range of stakeholders, including victims’ groups, when formulating the guidance. What action is the Scottish Government is taking to improve victims’ experiences of the justice system—in particular, to ensure that their voices are heard?
Improving victims’ experiences in the justice system is at the very heart of our vision for justice and will be progressed through the forthcoming criminal justice reform bill. We are working closely and directly with victims through the victims advisory board to embed their lived experience into our actions.
The victims task force brings together victims, victims’ organisations and criminal justice agencies to work collaboratively to deliver improvements. We are also committed to establishing a victims commissioner as an independent voice for victims as well as other pioneering initiatives to ensure that the needs of victims are met throughout their justice journey.
Can the cabinet secretary clarify what discussions the Scottish Government has had with the Scottish Sentencing Council about the rights of victims and the extent to which the trauma of young survivors is being reflected in sentencing guidelines, and also that victim impact statements are being taken into account by the courts, particularly in serious cases such as rape cases?
The member is correct to reference the fact that in any sentencing decision or any set of independent guidelines, as well as having regard to rehabilitation, for example, the guidelines often make specific references to young offenders. The purpose of sentencing is about punishment, protection of the public and expressing disapproval of offending. The impact on victims is imperative in that, particularly given the young age of some victims. That is why as a Government we are committed to developments such as the bairns’ hoose, where we can ensure that young victims have access to justice, care and recovery.