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A ‘more open and just’ justice system

A bill which seeks to resolve a sentencing anomaly around mandatory life sentences has been published by the Scottish Government.

The Criminal Cases (Punishment and Review) (Scotland) Bill, if passed, will resolve an technical anomaly which arose following the Appeal Court’s judgment in the case of Petch and Foye v. HMA, which meant that prisoners given a discretionary life sentence or Order for Lifelong Restriction (OLR) can apply to become eligible for parole earlier than those serving sentences of a fixed length. Under this new legislation the courts will regain the discretion to set a ‘punishment part’ of those sentences that it considers appropriate in all the circumstances of a particular case.

The effect of the Petch and Foye judgment has been that some offenders who had received an OLR or discretionary life sentence have been able to successfully appeal against, and in some cases shorten, the length of the punishment part of their sentences.

The ‘punishment part’ of a sentence is the minimum period of time which an offender must serve in prison before they become eligible to apply to the Parole Board for consideration of being released on parole.

The role of the Parole Board is to consider whether prisoners continue to present a risk to public safety. If the Parole Board considers an offender does continue to present a risk to public safety, the Parole Board will not authorise the release of that offender on parole.

The changes to the law will not be retrospective and therefore will not impact on cases and appeals currently being heard.