Offenders in their 20s could be tried ‘leniently’ as youths
CRIMINALS in their 20s could be treated as if they were youths and given more lenient sentences.
One of Scotland’s most senior judges is to launch a major review of how courts deal with children and young adults.
Lady Dorrian will look at whether someone aged 25 should be sentenced as if they were an immature youth who does not understand ‘the link between actions and consequences’.
The chairman of the Scottish Sentencing Council, which came into force in 2015, will launch a public consultation next year, before providing guidelines for judges.
She has told the Scottish Mail on Sunday that she believes there may be a case for rethinking the definition of a young offender.
Rather than have a cut-off age of 21, even older offenders in their mid-20s should not necessarily be deemed ‘as responsible for their actions as a fully formed adult’.
Anyone under 21 is tried as a young person, meaning prison is a last resort. Even if they are jailed, they are sent to Polmont Young Offenders’ Institution, in Stirlingshire, rather than an adult jail.
Lady Dorrian said: ‘There’s quite a lot of research to support the idea that young people are immature, their brains are not fully formed, and the link between actions and consequences are not so readily made.
‘They’re often subjected to a lot of peer influence, and can be subject to other undue influences.
‘Therefore, they should not be deemed as responsible for their actions as a fully formed adult.’
The first guidelines setting out the aims judges should consider when sentencing – protection of the public, punishment, rehabilitation of offenders, giving the offender the opportunity to make amends, and expressing disapproval of offending behaviour – have just come into force.
Over the next three years the council will look at specific areas, including young people, death by driving, wildlife crime and sexual offences. The guidelines will not set new maximum sentences for specific crimes but will have an impact on how judges handle cases. Raising the age at which offenders are treated as adults beyond 21 looks set to be the most controversial. Lady Dorrian said: ‘How do you classify a young person? Do they fall off the cliff edge at 21, or not?
‘What are the factors that make them less culpable that should be taken into account? Are there any factors that don’t do that?’
She added: ‘We have not reached any concluded view but we want to explore the issue. If it is not binary, and it isn’t that a young person falls off the cliff edge of maturity at 21, we need to ascertain, is there any way of identifying when that can happen? What should be taken into
‘More than capable of making own decisions’
account? How can we address it in a reasonably predictable and sensible regime?
‘Our first steps will be having a thorough look at the research of maturity and blame.’
She said courts could take an ‘individualistic’ approach, deciding on a case by case basis about whether an adult should be tried as a child.
She declined to give an upper age limit at this stage, though ruled out it applying to ‘someone as old as 30 even’. But Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: ‘A 25-year-old is more than capable of making their own decisions, whether they are good or bad, and must face the consequences.’
David Hines, of the National Victims Association, had a blunt message for adult offenders.
He said. ‘It’s a nonsense treating someone that age as a child.
‘How can society say someone is old enough to vote at 16, but criminals should be treated as children at 25? You can’t have it both ways.’
GUIDELINES: Lady Dorrian will look at issue of age