Victims of crime

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

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

Life should mean life?

Photo by Carles Rabada on Unsplash

What does a life sentence for homicide in Scotland actually mean?

Members of the public may scratch their heads when they are reading, viewing or hearing media reports about judges sentencing murderers. Does a 27 year prison sentence represent an adequate punishment in relation to a particularly horrific killing?

I use the figure 27 years quite deliberately because this was the sentence imposed on the murderer, Aaron Campbell, by Lord Matthews at the High Court of Justiciary on 21 March 2019. Campbell was convicted of the abduction and homicide of 6 year old Alesha MacPhail on the Isle of Bute in the summer of 2018.

What perhaps many people fail to realise is that when Lord Matthews imposed the prison sentence on Campbell, for the crime of homicide, this is merely the minimum term which he must serve before he is eligible to apply for parole. It does not mean that Campbell will be released in 27 years. His detention will merely be reviewed. He could be released, but this may well be on licence i.e. subject to very restrictive conditions. Any future Parole Board may well decide that it is not safe or appropriate to release this individual back into society in July 2045- or ever for that matter. The Parole Board May conclude that Campbell can never be rehabilitated.

In a previous post published on 4 March 2019 (Commit the crime, do the time?), I highlighted the fact that judges must work within sentencing guidelines laid down in legislation or developed by the Scottish Sentencing Council. Lord Matthews is a very experienced and senior member of the High Court of Justiciary and would have been well aware of these factors when sentencing Campbell.

A link to a BBC article about the sentencing of Aaron Campbell and footage of Lord Matthews’ sentencing statement can be found below:

Alesha MacPhail murder: Life sentence for Aaron Campbell after he admits guilt

Aaron Campbell was told that he would have to serve at least 27 years before he could apply for parole.

Lord Matthews’ sentencing statement can also be read on the website of the Judiciary of Scotland:

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 21 March 2019