Thank you for your email on this sensitive issue.
Many people like yourself will rightly be asking questions over the sentencing in this heinous case. As a society, we should have zero tolerance for these vile and violent crimes against women and girls. Many of us in Scottish Labour are particularly concerned about the age of the victim and the message this sends out to victims of rape and sexual assault.
I and my colleagues have been deeply concerned to see that the sentencing guidelines applied in this case mean that someone found guilty of such a grievous offence can walk free from court without a custodial sentence. This outcome has stemmed from a presumption against custodial sentences for young offenders which was introduced into sentencing guidelines last year. While sentencing guidelines in Scotland are developed independently by the Scottish Sentencing Council (SSC), the Scottish Government and the Lord Advocate must, by law, be consulted in this process before any guidelines are sent to the High Court for approval. My colleague Pauline McNeill, Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson, has therefore written to the Scottish Government to ask if they raised any concerns about these guidelines at that stage. Scottish Labour believes that an offence as serious as rape – particularly where the victim is a child – should never have a presumption against a custodial sentence, that these guidelines should be reviewed by the SSC and, if it proves necessary, that the law should be amended by the Scottish Parliament with this aim in mind.
I am also concerned that this case took almost five years to go to trial. While the pandemic has contributed to existing court backlogs, it cannot be right that a victim of such a crime has to wait so long to see justice, especially if the sentencing guidelines make the outcome barely seem like justice at all. The Scottish Government’s handling of the justice system is still seeing it fail far too many, particularly in cases of rape where there are ongoing deficiencies in conviction rates and sentences. My colleagues Pauline McNeill and Katy Clark have made tackling violence against women and girls a priority for Scottish Labour’s justice team, and as a party we will continue to press the Scottish Government on improving outcomes for the victims of these crimes.
Our justice team have also recently been meeting with S5 and S6 students to discuss the rising levels of misogyny and gender-based violence in schools and on social media. We believe that the Scottish Government has a duty to develop an educational resource on gender-based violence for all year groups in High School to ensure that young people leave school with the tools to help create a safer society for women and girls.
Thanks again for contacting me about this important issue.