Parliament debates overhauling justice system for murders 


Nicola Sturgeon open to sentencing rules reconsideration following Paige Docherty decision 

THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT WILL consider calls for stronger rules on sentencing for the most violent offenders, following concerns over the reduced prison time for the murder of fifteen year old Paige Docherty. 

Sentencing rules are under current review by the Scottish Sentencing Council (SSC), as part of a longstanding drive to reduce petty and non-violent offenders overcrowding national prisons. 

Prison numbers have decreased slightly in recent years, while violent crime has also fallen. However, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson called for action against the most violent criminals – to give judges the option of “full-life sentences”. 

Davidson asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: “The problem here is not just the Paige Doherty case; it is that too many families who have seen their loved ones killed simply do not feel that they are getting the justice that they deserve. They feel that the dice are loaded against them and in favour of the criminals.

“We on the Tory benches have long campaigned for whole-life sentences to be introduced in Scotland so that judges could — if they wished — sentence the very worst criminals to spend the rest of their lives in jail. The Scottish Government has said in the past that it might consider such a move. What is its view now?.”

The Tories have, however, opposed attempts to free up prison spaces and funding through moving towards greater rehabilitation – which raises questions over whether enough space would be available. The prison capacity is under 9,000 – yet over 4,000 short-term sentences were handed out in the first quarter of 2014-15 alone. 

Read more – Scottish courts failing to meet @ScotGov national sentencing guidelines

Sturgeon, speaking on the nature of the Doherty case, replied: “My heart breaks for the family of Paige Doherty. I met Paige’s mother last year. There are literally no words to express the pain and grief that she and the rest of her family have gone through. Today, on behalf of everyone in the chamber, I want to put on record my deepest condolences to her for everything that she has suffered. 

“I have no difficulty whatsoever in understanding the sentiments expressed by the justice for Paige campaign. If I had been a relative of Paige Doherty, I would have felt exactly the same, given the events that Ruth Davidson has outlined.

“The only other thing I would say—being frank, this is the more difficult thing to say — is that the decision was made by an independent judge in a court of law. We have an independent judiciary in Scotland. 

Read more – What is the new Scottish Sentencing Council and what will it mean for our courts?

“As well as being the first minister, I am a human being and there are many occasions when I look at decisions of courts and wish that different decisions had been reached. It may well be that this is such a case. 

“However, I respect the independence of the judiciary. I do not think that any member —including Ruth Davidson — would expect me to interfere with such decisions. What I can say is that I understand and sympathise with the pain and grief that Paige’s family is experiencing.”

Davidson replied that the Tories would push forward with a members bill to change sentencing guidelines.

Picture courtesy of Parliament TV

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