Labour hits out at sexual assault sentencing delay

The party's Justice spokesperson, Daniel Johnson, has hit out after the Scottish sentencing council announced it's new guidelines on sexual assault will be delayed until 2021.

The move comes amidst increasing criticism of the council, tasked with drawing up standardised sentencing guidelines for use in Scottish legal cases, which has only produced a single set of guidelines in the past three and a half years.

In its most recent business plan, the Sentencing Council confirmed that guidelines on sexual offences will not be among those finalised during the 2018-21 period.

In response, Labour has said it will ask the Scottish Parliament to declare the delay unacceptable, warning of discrepancies in current sentencing practices.

The calls follow the recent case of Christopher Daniel, 18, who was found guilty of repeated sexual assaults on a six year old girl but was granted an absolute discharge by Sheriff Gerard Sinclair, meaning he would not be placed on the sex offenders’ register and the guilty verdict will not be officially recorded as a conviction.

Mr. Johnson, Labour's Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice, said the current time-frame for new guidelines were 'unacceptable', and urged the council to bring forward it's plans.

“We need to reform and improve sentencing policy in Scotland, ensuring there is transparency in the system so that victims and their families can have confidence in it. " he added.

“That starts with Holyrood accepting there is an issue. The council was set up three and a half years ago but is not set to produce guidelines on sexual assault until after 2021. That just is not acceptable."

Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk and chair of the Scottish Sentencing Council defended the body, commenting: “We welcome parliamentary interest in our work, and agree that transparency and consistency in sentencing are vital. In Scotland’s first sentencing guideline, approved by the High Court last year, we set out both concepts as underpinning all sentencing decisions.”

She added: “However, the guideline also notes that treating cases similarly does not mean that they should be dealt with in exactly the same way.

On the issue of sexual offences, Lady Dorrian said “we would note that this is a wide ranging, sensitive, and complex topic, which will require careful consideration”, adding: “It is likely that the council will develop multiple guidelines on sexual offending, and we hope to announce the areas of initial focus soon. However, given the seriousness and sensitivity of such offences, it is vital that any guidelines we produce are well-researched and fit for purpose.”

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