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Tories propose law to keep Scotland’s worst criminals behind bars for life

The party wants to bring in similar legislation to England and Wales meaning some murderers and rapists would die in jail.

The Conservatives want some criminals to spend life behind bars (David Cheskin/PA)
The Conservatives want some criminals to spend life behind bars (David Cheskin/PA)

The Scottish Conservatives are consulting on proposed legislation to enable judges to tougher sentences on some murderers and rapists.

The party’s justice spokesman, Liam Kerr, wants Scottish judges to have the power to impose whole custody life sentences, as are allowed south of the border.

In Scotland, murderers are subject to mandatory life sentences, consisting of a minimum jail term after which they are considered for release on licence by the parole board.

There is no upper limit in legislation for the minimum term, and the longest imposed in Scotland was 37 years for World’s End murderer Angus Sinclair, who died in jail after being convicted of raping and murdering two teenagers.

The worst offenders should be in no doubt that they face the severest consequences for their actions – jail for the rest of their lives. Liam Kerr MSP

England and Wales have whole life orders for some crimes, including those over 21 convicted of murdering an on-duty police or prison officer or a murderer striking for the second time, where the starting point for sentencing is life behind bars.

People over 21 who commit multiple murders which involve either planning, abduction or sexual or sadistic conduct or murder a child with abduction or sexual or sadistic motivation are also subject to the orders.

Mr Kerr wants this to apply in Scotland, but stresses judges would retain the ability to impose the appropriate sentence based on the facts of the case.

He is seeking views on whether further categories should be added, including multiple rapists and child rapists.

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Liam Kerr is behind the sentencing proposal (Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament/PA)

In his consultation document, Mr Kerr said: “For the clear majority of prisoners, the prison service should work to rehabilitate and prepare them for a law-abiding life once they are released.

“But some offenders commit crimes which are so appalling that the risk of reoffending should be reduced as much as possible by never releasing them.”

He said these prisoners “will never be fit for release and reintroduction into society” and for them rehabilitation is a “fruitless effort”.

He said: “We must give judges the ability to put the worst criminals behind bars for the rest of their lives.

“Judges south of the border already have this power, it is time that Scottish judges did also.

“The worst offenders should be in no doubt that they face the severest consequences for their actions – jail for the rest of their lives.

“The SNP’s soft touch justice agenda has been letting down victims for too long.

“Giving judges this option will keep the public safer and give victims the justice they deserve.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scottish courts already have powers to impose a punishment part of a life sentence that can extend beyond the rest of a person’s life.”

He said the government supports these powers and it is right discretion lies with the court to decide in which cases to use them.

He added: “While it is not clear what this proposal would add to the existing extensive powers that Scotland’s courts already have, we will consider the proposal and, the detail of a draft Bill once it is available, to understand whether legislation of this sort would have a meaningful effect.”

Members of the public are invited to give their views on the consultation on the draft proposals, which closes on August 30.

PA

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