New guidance that aims to make rehabilitation a “primary consideration” when sentencing young offenders has come into force in Scotland’s courts.
Drawing on scientific evidence on cognitive maturity, the guidelines apply to people under the age of 25 from the date they are found guilty or make a guilty plea.
The Scottish Sentencing Council hopes the move will reduce reoffending and improve public safety.
The guidelines also add that a court should ensure that it has sufficient information to assess the maturity of the young person in order to impose the appropriate sentence.
This includes awareness of potential factors common to young people who commit offences, such as addiction, trauma, and adverse childhood experiences.
Although rehabilitation is a primary consideration, other purposes of sentencing, such as punishment and protection of the public, are also relevant.
But those who oppose the change say it is unfair on victims.
Lady Dorrian, lord justice clerk and chairwoman of the council, said: “The council considers that by setting out the various matters which should 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 to the sentencing of a fully mature adult, with rehabilitation as primary consideration.
“It is important to note that the guideline does not affect the centrality of the harm caused to a victim in assessing the level of seriousness of an offence.
“It also does not prevent other purposes of sentencing, such as protection of the public, or the full range of sentencing options, from being considered by courts when sentencing a young person.”
The new guidelines went through a full public consultation in 2020 and were approved by the High Court in November last year.
Scottish Conservative shadow cabinet secretary for justice Jamie Greene MSP said the new policy is “unfair to victims” and “plainly wrong”.
Referencing a section of the new guidelines which said “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”, Greene asked: “Why should a 24-year-old criminal receive a lesser sentence than a 25-year-old who commits the same offence, merely on account of their age?”
He went on to claim 71% of people rejected the proposal at the consultation stage.
“The Scottish Conservatives will finally put victims at the heart of Scotland’s justice system through our proposed Victims Bill,” he added.