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.