Sexual abuse offenders and road killers to escape jail in justice shake-up

Possession of child pornography and causing death by dangerous driving may no longer mean jail under radical plans to phase out sentences of less than a year in Scotland.

Lord Turnbull, one of Scotland’s top judges, said plans to introduce a presumption against sentences of less than a year could be applied to sentences of up to a year-and-a-half - after discounts for early guilty pleas had been taken into account.

“If that offender has pled guilty at an early stage then conventionally he might expect to receive a discount of a third,” he told MSPs on Holyrood's Justice committee.

“That brings the final sentence down to say somewhere between 10 and 12 months which is right into the teeth of the presumption," Lord Turnbull said.

“Offences which might be in that sort of category will include perhaps causing death by careless driving, causing death whilst driving disqualified, possession of indecent photographs of children, possibly even distribution of lower category images.”

Other crimes which may escape jail include possession of offensive knives or weapons, the judge added, assaults and perhaps even in relation to the 15-18 month period some drugs supply charges, sexual offences and charges of multiple housebreaking.

Assaulting emergency services or police officers could also see offenders escape jail because the Emergency Workers Scotland Act and the Police and Fire Reform Scotland Act carry maximum sentences of 12 months imprisonment.

Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said:

“Victims were already disgusted at the idea of scrapping sentences of less than a year.

"The Scottish Government wants to end shorter sentences because they don't tackle re-offending or help rehabilitate offenders, while adding to overcrowding in Scotland's jails.

“The fact this seems to be increasing to 18 months will compound that feeling that they’re being let down by a soft-touch justice system under the SNP. It’s also very concerning to hear that violent criminals who attack police, paramedics and fire-fighters could be let off the hook.

“The SNP needs to think again on this. It’s vital that the justice system keeps ordinary people safe, punishes crime and offers sufficient deterrent to those considering crime."

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