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Public survey reveals attitudes to sentencing in Scotland

A new report published today (Monday 2 September) by the Scottish Sentencing Council explores public knowledge and attitudes towards sentencing in Scotland, revealing that the majority of respondents view is that sentences were too lenient.

The research was conducted as an opinion poll of 1,000 adults across Scotland between March and April of this year by Ipsos MORI.

Respondents were asked for their views on what the purposes of sentencing should be; how current sentencing is perceived; their awareness of different sentencing options and what sentences ought to be given for causing death by driving offences and some sexual offences.

The Scottish Sentencing Council is now seeking views on guidelines on the sentencing process, which is open for public consultation.

Kate Wallace, CEO of Victim Support Scotland, said: “The results of the ‘Public Perceptions of Sentencing’ national survey demonstrates that there is a real gap between the perception and reality of sentencing in Scotland.  More must be done to address the misconceptions around custodial sentences, and the lack of confidence in the effectiveness of community sentencing, if the general public and victims are to feel that justice has been served.

“The ongoing consultation by the Sentencing Council offers a real opportunity to increase public knowledge and understanding of how our courts work.”

“56% of respondents to this survey feel that the submission of a guilty plea should make no difference to the sentence handed down, this shows that our criminal justice system should fundamentally be about providing justice to victims of crime, not saving courts time.”

The Scottish Sentencing Council undertook this work to broaden its understanding of Scottish public attitudes towards sentencing in general, and to explore in more depth how the public views the sentencing of particular offences. Although some research is undertaken on the criminal justice system in general, particularly as part of the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, this project fills a gap in understanding around Scottish attitudes towards sentencing.

The survey revealed that:

  • 62% were confident that Scotland’s criminal justice system is fair to all.
  • Those who thought that 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’.
  • Respondents felt that public protection was the most important purpose of sentencing, followed by rehabilitation of offenders.
  • 56% of respondents felt that sentencing in general was too lenient.
  • However, 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 the five offences covered.

The full report can be found on the Scottish Sentencing Council website.

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