Crime is a hugely emotive issue – particularly so for the victims and their families. It is important to remember, however, that the primary purpose of the criminal justice system is to punish offenders who break the collective rules of society as a whole. It is the State which takes vengeance on behalf of the community or society. It is not about the individual rights of victims and, as such, we have a public system of prosecution in Scotland. As discussed in Chapter 1 of Introductory Scots Law, the State is extremely unwilling to allow private prosecutions to proceed and these remain very rare in practice.
In two previous Blogs (“Commit the crime, do the time” published on 4 March 2019; and “Life should mean life?” published on 22 March 2019), I discussed the issues of sentencing by the Scottish criminal courts and, specifically, what exactly a life sentence entails.
I now want to turn my attention to the matter of prisoners making an application to the Scottish Parole Board for release.
The Parole Board is a statutory Tribunal independent of the Scottish Ministers.
Should the victims of crime or their family members have a say in whether the Parole Board decides that a prisoner ought to be released?
This issue has received some media attention because, on 27 March 2019, the Scottish Government closed its Consultation into the Parole system (Transforming Parole in Scotland).
A link to the Consultation can be found below:
The Faculty of Advocates responded to the Consultation and agreed, with certain reservations, that the opinions of victims should be taken into account at parole hearings, but on a limited basis and within clear terms of reference.
Essentially, the Faculty believes that any input from victims in parole proceedings should be restricted to the submission of a Victim Personal Statement which would be considered by the Board. The Faculty had misgivings about allowing victims or their families to attend parole hearings and for the Board to release detailed reasons for its decisions.
As the Faculty noted, the primary purpose of the Board “is assessment of risk, and that should remain central in consideration of any reform.”
A link to the Faculty’s response to the Scottish Government’s Consultation can be found below:
The response by the Faculty of Advocates to the Government’s Consultation is unlikely to please everyone, but it does recognise that victims of crime and their families have a role to play (albeit a somewhat limited one). As the Faculty, critically, argues the role of the Parole Board is to assess the risk to the public of releasing a prisoner from incarceration. The opinions of the victims and their families must necessarily take second place here.
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 2 April 2019