SNP justice policy means violent criminals are escaping custodial sentences, warns DONALD CAMPBELL


Alex Salmond has been rightly criticised for politicising last week’s riots (and let’s not get into the debate about trying to name the riots according to geography). So I’ll be careful. But I want to make a political observation about criminal justice and the riots.

It is right that those guilty of violent offences get serious sentences. And violence, looting, arson – these are serious sentences. Many police forces, like Greater Manchester are Tweeting the sentences handed down for the riots. And the courts are sending people to jail.

But if these riots did happen in Scotland, courts would not have that option. The SNP’s decision effectively to prevent sheriffs issuing short prison sentences of less than three months means that non-custodial sentences are used instead.

If we saw a similar eruption of violence here, it would be Scottish courts who have their hands tied behind their back.

We all want to rehabilitate offenders – and believe me, we have to do a lot more in that regard – and prison is not the only sentence courts should be able to hand down. No one will argue that community punishment orders have their place and – properly resourced – they can help get people back on the straight and narrow. But violent crime cannot go unpunished.

Now the SNP are arguing to push this further, suggesting a legal presumption against custodial sentences of six months and less (such a policy was in their election manifesto in their commitment to implement the McLeish report). Such a presumption, if implemented, would mean that 10,855 criminals would dodge jail, including, on last year’s figures, one homicide, 134 crimes of violence, 38 serious assaults, eight indecent assaults, 497 knife criminals and 1,574 people convicted of assault.

Scottish Labour cannot be afraid of being tough on law and order. Toughness and fairness are not mutually exclusive in politics – they are an essential blend.

The SNP’s approach to crime is characterised by a weakness and an unwillingness to grasp important issues, even if they are uncomfortable or unpalatable. The right of courts to impose short sentences is one of them.

Donald Campbell is a member of East Renfrewshire CLP.

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3 thoughts on “Do the crime, do the time

  1. ………….. but there were no riots in Scotland.

    I really don’t get this line of arguement.

    Why is Labour trying to out Tory the Tories on the issue of crime?

    Why is someone like Donald Campbell making points that would not be out of place in the Daily Mail, the Telegraph or the Spectator?

    Why is Labour painting a picture of a violent Scotland where state retribution is the only answer?

    Crime levels in Scotland are at a 30 year low, and when it comes to re-offending rates non custodial sentencing has been a success whilst jail continues to be an expensive failure.

  2. I feel Labour never really got the logic of the SNP’s proposals. They didn’t seem to understand that if there was a presumption against short sentences then if someone was given a custodial sentence – as you would expect for a violent crime – they would be given a minimum sentence of six months (or three months under the watered down plan). It was particularly noticeable during the election campaign when Labour were campaigning for a six month sentence for knife crime. The accused would have got at least 6 months in most cases where the accused had used a knife under the SNP’s proposals. Perhaps we should have spun it a bit more as introducing a minimum sentence of 6 months rather than abolishing sentences of less than 6 months but in the end it made no difference as people voted for us anyway and I believe most rational people understand the logic behind the policy.

    Also, as you must know, it is not the case that the SNP has effectively prevented short sentences being handed down if the court considers that is appropriate. A presumption against short sentences is not the same as Labour’s silly idea of mandatory sentencing.

    1. Scottish Labour is adopting a political position that is now way right of its long held ideological position on dealing with crime and the causes of crime.

      The lesson from the last election is that Scottish Labour needs more Malcolm Chisholms and less Iain Grays if it wants to remain convincing on sentencing.

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