Guidelines For Sentencing In Road Traffic Cases In Scotland
Death by driving, and environment and wildlife offences will be the subjects of the first guidelines to be produced by the Scottish Sentencing Council, under its new Business Plan but hopefully in the not too distant future, we will see sentencing guidelines for road traffic cases in Scotland. It is true that sentencing guidance is available in relation to road traffic law, however the guidance comes in the form of High Court or Sheriff Appeal court decisions and from the relevant statutes where appropriate sentences may be mandatory or in a recommended range. In particular cases, the fundamental principles and purposes of sentencing have not been expressly defined in any single piece of legislation or court judgment.
Personally, I believe that the Scottish Sentencing Commission have a fantastic opportunity secure consistent sentencing throughout the whole of Scotland and I am certain that this will help restore public confidence in what is the some- what tarnished sentencing reputation of our lower courts. As someone who has specialised in road traffic law for more years than I care to remember, I can say from my personal experience that the system of training that has been instituted throughout the Justice of the Peace courts in recent years has paid real dividends with most courts and most Justices of the Peace providing a consistently fair and sometimes remarkable service to the people of Scotland. All done on a miniscule budget. Yet, they do need more direction on sentencing. I have often taken to quoting the English Magistrates Sentencing Guidelines as a useful way to focus the bench on key factors of mitigation and even aggravation, pointing out what the English Guidelines on Sentencing suggest as appropriate as they can be seen as an impartial document and therefore not just some “expensive, hired suit” bending their ear on the reasons why his/her client should not be banned from driving!
I have found that often accused people do a tremendous amount of research online, in relation to any road traffic offence that they face prosecution for and there is often a plethora of mis-information or outdated information that they may be influenced by. (Our own website has been in existence for some 13 years and it also has pages of outdated information, it is the natural consquence of developing such a website)
It is only fit and proper that in this modern age we have a widely available resource that educates and informs people on their rights and their likely sentence should they come before a Scottish court in relation to a road traffic offence. It could explain how the whole sentencing process works and the factors that are worthy of consideration and in my view this transparency would go a long way in establishing a sense of confidence in our system not just from the drivers but also all other affected parties.
In particular, I am thinking of the situation where a family member of a deceased person who has been killed by a careless driver, cannot understand the sentence. Those of us involved in these type of cases can easily understand why there is such a wide range of sentencing options available in such a matter, but for the family of the deceased, it may sometimes seem impossible to understand what seems to be the low value placed on the life of their loved ones. To see the “guilty” driver receive a non custodial sentence may seem to be “a let off,” or “unfair” and a failure on the part of the justice system.
Those of us who are directly involved in this process owe it to the families and affected parties to ensure that balanced and informed information is available for them to consider and reflect upon, when they are able to do so. These Sentencing Guideliness offer the opportunity to help the families of victims and people in general better understand what is taken into account when a person has been found guilty of a crime. How is that sentence is decided ? What factors have been taken into account, i.e.How has seriousness of the offence been weighed up and what factors might increase or decrease a sentence?
I was delighted to read on the Business plan for the Scottish Sentencing Commission that they will be looking and learning from other jurisdictions.
I’m not sure if we want these “tables” that they seem to use in many U.S courts but let’s not re invent the wheel, if we can see a system that works then let’s copy it. We should use it or at least the best parts of it. An excellent set of guidelines for the Magistrates Court in England exists online and in the past I had a pdf copy printed and carried around with me in an ever expanding briefcase, until I discovered the benefits of a Dropbox account and an iPad!
“To formulate the most appropriate approach within the Scottish context, the Council will take into account, among other things, what lessons can be learned from other jurisdictions with guideline systems, the needs of the Scottish judiciary, and the views of persons with an interest, role and expertise in the sentencing process.” I hope they look just over the border in the first instance and they learn from our English counterparts.
Death by driving has been chosen as a serious matter that affects many people, and also as the circumstances are often complicated, which can lead to extremely difficult sentencing decisions.
The Council will also begin researching the sentencing of sexual offences, with a focus on those involving children. These account for a high proportion of sentences, particularly in the High Court. Again, such crime can involve complicated circumstances leading to very difficult sentencing decisions where a guideline could prove extremely useful.
Council Chair, the Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian said: “The topics we have selected to begin preparing guidelines on are of importance to local communities and families across Scotland. We will take the time to properly research each area and consult widely, not only with our justice partners, but with relevant groups and the wider public.
“We welcome input from those interested and encourage you to have your say in helping to shape Scotland’s first sentencing guidelines. We will produce easy-read documents of our consultation process in a bid to engage as many people as possible. We are designing these guidelines to assist judges and at the same time to promote a better understanding of how the sentencing process works.”
There you have it, an open invitation to contribute to the consultation process. Perhaps a chance for you to affect the guidelines for sentencing in road traffic cases in Scotland