New guidance has come into force in Scottish courts which aims to ensure that rehabilitation is a “primary consideration” when sentencing young offenders.
The juvenile sentencing guideline applies to individuals under the age of 25 from the date they are convicted or plead guilty.
Developed by the Scottish Sentencing Council, the document is based on scientific evidence on cognitive maturity.
He says that a young person will generally have a lower level of maturity and greater capacity for change than an older person, and therefore rehabilitation should be a primary consideration when sentencing them.
The guidelines also say that a court must ensure that it has enough information to assess the youth’s maturity in order to impose the appropriate sentence.
This includes awareness of possible factors common to youth who commit crimes, such as addiction, trauma, and adverse childhood experiences.
The council said rehabilitating young people will also help achieve one of the guideline’s key goals: reducing recidivism among young people and thus helping to increase public safety.
Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk and chair of the council, said: “The council believes that by setting out the various issues that need to be taken into account when sentencing a young person, the guideline will help to increase public understanding and awareness of why this is a different exercise than the sentencing of a fully mature adult, with rehabilitation as the primary consideration.
“It is important to point out that the guideline does not affect the centrality of the damage caused to a victim in the evaluation of the level of seriousness of a crime.
“It also does not preclude courts from considering other sentencing purposes, such as protection of the public or the full range of sentencing options, when sentencing a youth.”
Lady Dorrian added: “The juvenile sentencing guideline is the Scottish Sentencing Council’s third general guideline.
“It joins, and should be read in conjunction with, the Principles and Purposes of Sentencing and the Sentencing Process Guidelines as part of a framework for all sentencing decisions in Scotland.”
The new guidelines went through a full public consultation in 2020 and were approved by the High Court in November last year.
In response, Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Justice Secretary Jamie Greene MSP said the new policy is “unfair to victims” and “clearly wrong”.
Referring to a section of the new guidelines that said “if a juvenile is sentenced to imprisonment, it should be shorter than that which would have been imposed on an older person for the same or similar offence,” Greene asked. : “Why should a 24-year-old criminal receive a lesser sentence than a 25-year-old who commits the same crime, simply because of his age?”
He went on to state that 71% of the people rejected the proposal at the consultation stage.
“Scottish Conservatives will finally put victims at the heart of Scotland’s justice system through our proposed Victims Bill,” he added.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.