Scotland’s judges should have power to impose whole-life sentences, say Tories

SCOTLAND’S judges should be given the power to impose whole-life sentences, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

The party insisted “life really should mean life” for the most dangerous criminals and pointed to recent cases such as the murder of Sarah Everard.

Wayne Couzens, a Met Police officer, was given a whole-life sentence last month for abducting, raping and killing the 33-year-old.

Judges in Scotland have to provide a minimum term to be served in prison before an offender can be released when handing down a life sentence.

But the Tories want to introduce new legislation to the Scottish Parliament to make sure the worst offenders “stay locked up”.

The Scottish Government said Scots law already allows the criminal courts to keep offenders in custody for the rest of their life.

Tory MSP Russell Findlay said: “It is entirely right for a judge to have the power to impose a whole-life sentence on the police officer who murdered Sarah Everard, meaning that he will never be released.

“If a similar crime occurred in Scotland, a judge would not be allowed to make the same decision.

“Life really should mean life for Scotland’s most dangerous criminals.

“Our proposals would ensure judges could guarantee victims, and wider society, that they would stay locked up.

“Other parties previously rejected this Scottish Conservative proposals but I hope they will now re-think their opposition and work with me to introduce this crucial sentencing option as a matter of urgency.

“All too often the SNP let down victims and put the interest of criminals first.

“The Scottish Conservatives will continue to push for whole-life sentences to be imposed to ensure the worst offenders feel the full force of the law.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Sentencing Council said it “considers that there is presently nothing in legislation or precedent to prevent judges imposing, should it be appropriate, punishment parts which will effectively amount to whole-life terms”.

He added: “When people are sentenced to life imprisonment, the judge must, by law, set the punishment part – the minimum time the person will spend in prison before they can be considered for release at all.

“After that minimum time, they will remain in prison unless the Parole Board for Scotland decides that they are safe to be released into the community under lifelong conditions.

“When setting the punishment part of a life sentence, judges can set a period which is likely to exceed the remainder of the prisoner’s natural life. 

“This can result in a whole-life sentence.

“The council understands that the courts regard their present powers as adequate; that current sentencing practices suggest that there is no need for any additional powers; and that the present system enables those who are assessed as posing a risk to public safety to be kept in custody.

“While legislative proposals requiring a change in the law are ultimately a matter for the Scottish Parliament, the council is not persuaded that this change is necessary.”

Angus Sinclair, the so-called World’s End serial killer, was jailed for a minimum of 37 years in 2014, the longest sentence ever handed out by a Scottish court. It meant he would be 106 before he could apply for parole. He died in 2019.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “For those that commit the most heinous crimes, it is already the case that Scots law allows the criminal courts to keep offenders in custody for the rest of their life.  

“These exceptional powers have been in place for use by Scotland’s most senior judges in the High Court since the early 2000s and the Scottish Government fully supports courts having these powers.  

“The use of such powers is appropriately for the independent court to determine on a case by case basis.”

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992