Humza Yousaf has said the First Minister should not intervene in sentencing decisions in response to calls for a review of guidelines after a man who raped a 13-year-girl was spared jail.
Speaking to reporters at a visit in Aberdeen on Tuesday, Yousaf said he “understood” the concerns people had raised, but that he had to be “careful” as the First Minister should not intervene in sentencing decisions.
Sean Hogg, 21, was handed a community payback order after being convicted, forcing him to complete 270 hours of unpaid work.
He raped the girl, then aged 13, on multiple occasions at Dalkeith Coutry Park in Midlothian when he was 17.
The sentence has caused outrage among feminist groups such as Rape Crisis Scotland, who branded it “worryingly lenient”.
Scottish Tories’ justice spokesperson Jamie Greene wrote to the new justice secretary Angela Constance, calling for a review with a view to “scrapping the guidelines” so that convicted rapists do not evade a prison sentence because they are under 25.
The guidance, which came into force early last year, said: “A custodial sentence should only be imposed on a young person when the court is satisfied that no other sentence is appropriate.
“If a custodial sentence is imposed on a young person, it should be shorter than that which would have been imposed on an older person for the same, or a similar, offence.”
But Yousaf insisted the judiciary, who passed down the sentence, is independent from government and ministers.
He said: “That’s got to be a decision that’s for the courts. And of course I’ve also read comment in the press that the Crown will potentially be considering an appeal to that sentence. Again, that’s a decision for the Crown to make, independent of government Ministers.”
The First Minister said he “understood” concerns, but said it was an “exceptional case” and in the vast majority of cases where someone is convicted of rape, they end up with a custodial sentence.
Yousaf added: “I can understand again why people are concerned about this particular case, but it’s so important that the government doesn’t intervene or interfere in decisions made by our judiciary.
“The sentencing guidelines are determined not by government ministers, but rightly so by the Sentencing Council, which is led by the judiciary.
“Generally when I was justice secretary, rehabilitation and rehabilitating offenders was an important issue.
“We don’t want people to be in that revolving door of going from prison, out in the community and back again.
“But of course in this case, in a case where someone’s been convicted of rape, I can completely understand the concerns that people have got about the sentence that has been given in this particular case, but again it is for the judiciary to make a determination the same as it is for the Crown to independently make a decision about whether to challenge that as being unduly lenient or not.”