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READERS’ LETTERS: Many factors go into sentencing criminals

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Sir, – As a person who was concerned with the Scottish criminal justice system for some 50 years as defence counsel, advocate depute, sheriff and part time High Court judge, I think that I am entitled to comment on the editorial The Courier story entitled “Disappointing term for sexual abuser” (December 5).

I consider the editorial is misconceived.

In it you appear to suggest that the accused in any case of a sexual assault on a child should automatically receive a prison sentence.

It is, of course, open to parliament to legislate to that effect, but that is certainly not the law at present.

The case which gave rise to your comment appears indeed to have been a horrific one, and it is entirely proper that the two girls who were the victims should be praised for their courage in giving evidence.

However, unlike the sheriff who passed sentence, neither you nor I know the full facts of the case, and we have not had sight of the detailed reports which the sheriff will have seen.

As I understand the present law, a judge is not entitled to impose a custodial sentence unless he or she is satisfied that no other disposal is possible.

In this case the sheriff, no doubt applying that test, concluded that another disposal was possible and appropriate.

Are you suggesting the sheriff was incompetent?

It is very easy to criticise a sentence imposed by a court.

I experienced such criticism on quite a few occasions and accepted it as part of the job.

The Crown has the right of appeal against a sentence which it considers to have been unduly lenient.

I do not know whether such an appeal is being considered in the present case. I do know that no sentence of mine was successfully appealed on this ground.

Comments made by Ms Jan Swan, manager of FRASAC, appear to suggest that she considers that a custodial sentence is appropriate in such a case to operate as a deterrent.

I have always had considerable reservations about the deterrent theory of punishment. So many criminals offend without giving any heed to the possible consequences.

In conclusion I would add, and I think that most judges in criminal cases would agree, that sentencing is one of the most difficult tasks that a judge has to perform.

I am sure that no judge passes sentence in a case such as this without giving it a great deal of thought.

I suggest, therefore, that the media, in whatever form, should give very careful consideration before deciding to criticise a judge’s decision in this field.

Alastair L Stewart.

Albany Road,

Broughty Ferry.


Reasons for a change of heart

Sir, – Regarding the letter in The Courier by Christopher Rosindale where he states why he will “never vote Conservative again” (Letters, December 5).

For a former Conservative activist to make this statement, and the very well thought out reasons he gave, I can only applaud his bravery.

Leaving the EU would indeed be a tragedy for Scotland but the reasons not to vote Conservative are many. It is true they have swung violently to the right of politics but some of the many other reasons should be remembered.

These include the rape clause, swingeing benefit cuts and the attempted imposition of a bedroom tax, to name but a few.

I salute you sir for seeing and hearing what many Conservatives close their eyes and ears to.

Bryan Auchterlonie.

Bluebell Cottage,



Education plays a vital role

Sir, – Ms Sturgeon certainly knows how to spin things. (“Sturgeon ‘not denying the challenge’ over education”, The Courier, December 5). As well as in the headline, she also said maths and science achievements have been stable since the last PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) report. Strictly speaking, this is correct.

The PISA results were extremely poor in the last report, and they are extremely poor now as well.

That indeed is the definition of stability, but this is not what we want or need.

If people want to get on in the world, they need to be well educated, not just in actual terms, but in relation to other countries as we are inevitably competing against others in global terms.

The education you receive defines your life chances more than any other factor, and also the chances of your children and grandchildren.

The first minister and that nice Mr Swinney need to reflect on the fact that if they don’t improve things and quickly, then individuals, their families and Scotland as a whole are going to suffer, and not just for the term of this parliament but for the rest of this century.

Maintaining the standard of a poor ranking is not good enough.

Her spin is beyond what any normal person might find acceptable.

Having been asked to be judged on her education record, it seems like Ms Sturgeon might not have too much longer to go.

Victor Clements.

Mamie’s Cottage,



Boris Johnson is a ‘liability’

Sir, – As I write, it is less than a week to polling day and Boris Johnson has not yet plucked up the courage to face a television interview with Andrew Neil.

All other party leaders have taken part in what is regarded as the most aggressive interview in the election process, even Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, who had been widely attacked as being a “bottler” for not putting up candidates in Tory-held marginal seats.

Andrew Neil has now issued a public challenge to Johnson to appear on his programme.

Ironically, Boris Johnson spent months bullying Theresa May in parliament by undermining her leadership until she conceded defeat, allowing Johnson to fulfil his ambition of becoming prime minister.

It is clear he does not have the confidence of most Scottish Tories, even the elected ones.

Jackson Carlaw was squirming during the televised Scottish leaders’ debate when asked to justify his support for the prime minister.

The Tory Party political broadcast aimed solely at Scotland had already reinforced this.

Described by The Courier’s political editor, Paul Malik, as “bizarre”, it showed an unnamed Tory candidate in a Tayside seat working from an impressive office in Edinburgh New Town, but the most telling point was the advert’s message. Indyref was mentioned seven times, Nicola Sturgeon five times, the SNP twice, schools twice, NHS once, jobs once, and Brexit once.

No mention was made of farming or of immigration, in spite of the reliance so many Scottish farmers have on EU-based workers.

There was no mention either of what the Tories in Westminster had achieved for Scotland – which is hardly surprising.

Most significantly, no mention was made of Boris Johnson who is obviously seen as an electoral liability.

Ken Guild.

76 Brown Street,

Broughty Ferry.


Are promises from Santa?

Sir, – Why are all the benefits and bonuses now being promised by political parties not already with us?

Do they keep them for elections, in the same way that new bicycles for children are saved until Christmas?

Malcolm Parkin.

Gamekeepers Rd,



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