Of­fend­ers in their 20s could be tried ‘le­niently’ as youths

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Gareth Rose SCOT­TISH PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

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

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