Scottish public believes courts are too lenient on criminals

The survey suggests the public want to see tougher sentences imposed by the courts.
The survey suggests the public want to see tougher sentences imposed by the courts.

The majority of the public are confident Scotland’s criminal justice system is fair to all, according to new independent research.

A wide-ranging survey carried out for the Scottish Sentencing Council also found that those who thought crime in their local area had increased were most likely to have a lack of confidence in the system.

People were more likely to say the emphasis should be on rehabilitation when sentencing a young person compared to sentencing an adult.

And respondents felt that public protection was the most important purpose of sentencing, followed by rehabilitation of offenders.

Some 56 per cent of respondents felt that sentencing in general was too lenient.

But when asked how offenders should be sentenced in specific scenarios, the most common response was broadly in line with likely sentences for four out of five scenarios of specific offences – causing death by careless driving, causing death by dangerous driving, rape and historical sexual offences.

The exception to this was the possession of indecent images of children scenario, in which most respondents suggested sentences which would be more severe than the likely sentence.

The survey revealed that awareness of sentencing amongst the general population was mixed, with 47 per cent feeling they knew a lot or a moderate amount, while 53 per cent stated that they knew a little or nothing at all about the sentences given to people convicted of crimes in Scotland.

The vast majority of respondents did have knowledge of the different non-custodial sentences that can be imposed in Scotland, but there was a tendency to overestimate the proportion of convictions that result in prison sentences.

The single most important aspect of sentencing should be protecting the public, according to half of the respondents, with a quarter saying rehabilitating the offender was most important.

However, this was reversed when asked about sentencing young people, where a majority felt there should be a greater emphasis on rehabilitation.

Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk and Chair of the Scottish Sentencing Council, said: “Developing an understanding of how the public views sentencing, both in general and in relation to those topics on which we are currently developing guidelines, is absolutely crucial.”

She added: “This survey gives us valuable insight into public attitudes towards causing death by driving and sexual offences.

“The findings will be carefully considered as the council continues its work on these guidelines.”